A few weeks ago, I was off duty at home in my backyard and was talking to a officer who was working his shift. The officer got a call of a welfare check on one of our senior citizens who had not been seen in several days. When I heard who it was, we both got a bad feeling. I asked the officer to call me when he had some news. About 30 minutes later, he called and told me the senior was dead in her house.
I, along with most of the Powell P.D. officers, knew this lady, as she lived alone, had dementia and tended to walk the streets and ask people for rides to various places. A few minutes later, I went to the house to say a final goodbye to “Mary,” which is not her real name
I walked in the house which was cluttered, smelly and in disarray. I saw Mary on the floor next to her bed. Mary was fully clothed, but it was obvious she had been there for a few days. For some reason, this lady was important to me — probably from all the times I and other members of PPD dealt with her and tried to get her in to an assisted living facility, but, due to legal issues, were unable to do so.
I looked at Mary and felt sadness and frustration. She was not in her right mind, but always dressed nice and was rarely confrontational. I looked at her again and she, like many others, died alone. A close friend of Mary’s who I had been in contact with the last few years came by and I gave her a hug and offered my condolences.
The coroner responded and ruled it death by natural causes. Mary was put in a body bag and I then escorted Mary to Thompson’s Funeral Home and I informed the coroner and the funeral director that Mary had no living relatives other than her close friend who responded. Powell police officers, Powell EMTs, Powell hospital staff and members of the Department of Family Services were the only family she had.
When I returned from vacations or extended days off, I would check the computer and see if there was any contact with Mary and a few others. If there wasn’t any contact while I was gone, I would do a welfare check on them just to make sure they were OK.
The public does not often see this side of law enforcement. The last three death cases I responded to were similar. The deceased were found on the floor of their residence and they died alone with no family around them. One died of cancer, the other two died of natural causes. They died alone in cluttered houses and were discovered a few days after they passed.
Powell police officers truly care about the residents in town.
Senior citizens have a special place in my heart since both of my parents are in their 80s and I am inching towards my 60th birthday. We check on their welfare, we respond to their house when they call; sometimes we shovel their driveway and walkways when it snows. The job is not all about traffic stops, DUI’s, drugs, arrests and calls for service, which take up a lot of our time.
One of our residents has special needs and we check on her often. When she lets us, we go in her house during winter to check her thermostat to make sure the house is warm. One night, her pipes in the house were frozen so one of our sergeants sat there with a hair dryer — thawing out her pipes so she would have inside running water. Yes, we do care about “our” people.
Dealing with death is never a fun experience, but we do it more than you know. We do it with compassion, understanding and respect for the deceased and their families. This is the side of police work that the public rarely sees, but this is just a small part of the job that we do.
Rest in peace, Mary. You will not be forgotten!
(Matthew Brilakis is a Powell police officer. He worked at the Coral Springs, Florida, Police Department for 21 years before joining the Powell PD in July 2007.)