The sheriff admitted that the county had too much road to cover. The department had been cut way back. Federal money wasn’t flowing to the state like it used to. Funding for counties and municipalities was drying up. Yet those crazy kids kept finding new ways to kill themselves.
The sheriff knew a thing or two about “Chicken.” He’d never been a bad kid, but maybe he’d displayed an occasional bit of hazy judgment in his high-school days. Like others, he’d gone to Friday-night contests where a guy in one car drove straight towards a guy in another car, pedal to the metal, to see who would swerve away first. And God forgive him, he’d even taken his old Chevy out on the road one night to give it a go.
But the sheriff got his diploma, did a stint in the Marines, attended community college then earned a four-year degree in law enforcement. He owed all that to the fact that while those crazy kids played “Chicken” back in the day, they always chickened out. What’s more, the onlookers never expected to hear the sounds of crushed metal and broken glass. The game was dumb, but the kids understood the risks and managed to avoid them.
No longer. The sheriff didn’t know whether it was the influence of TV, which seemed to get bloodier and bloodier, or video games, whose blood lust he didn’t at all understand. Or maybe it was something in the water.
Worse, the rules of the game had undergone a drastic change. Two drivers didn’t simply speed towards each other, stupid enough as that was. Now, the onlookers were participants. They actually stood in the middle of the road between the two cars. Risks to the drivers had become minimal. Kids seeking a new thrill exposed themselves to way bigger risks. And the drivers didn’t give a damn about who they hurt.
So it was that the sheriff gathered with deputies, local police and state investigators. Flashes of red and yellow lit their faces. The only sounds they could hear above their hushed conversation came from police radios, ambulance sirens approaching from every direction and TV-news producers instructing their camera crews.
“What gets me,” the sheriff told a reporter, “is that the two drivers knew that the kids in the crowd between them would absorb the brunt of the punishment. The drivers figured they’d probably just walk away.”
Of course, they did the perp walk before deputies drove them to the county’s juvenile lock-up where they would be temporarily sequestered. Thanks to air bags, they’d suffered little more than scratches.
The onlookers were another story. Left unprotected, many went to county hospitals. Several were taken to the morgue.
“What I can’t understand,” the sheriff exclaimed, “is why the onlookers kept standing there and cheering on drivers coming right at them. Those kids, they could have voted with their feet. But they didn’t. What the hell were they thinking?”
The two drivers were released on their own recognizance shortly after midnight.
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