Dead Cop Highway

There is a stretch of the 101 not far from SFO called the “Officer Dave Chetcuti Memorial Highway.” You have probably already guessed that Chetcuti was killed in the line of duty. Patrol cops, even very good ones (and I have no reason to believe he wasn’t), don’t get sections of public road named after them unless they die on the job.

So it was the case for Officer Chetcuti, who had been a veteran of the Millbrae PD for over a decade. On April 25, 1998, a San Bruno police officer pulled over a motorist on southbound 101 near Millbrae. When the driver produced a high-powered rifle in lieu of license, registration, and proof of insurance, the cop called for assistance. Chetcuti answered the call and raced to the scene on his motorcycle. He was killed in the ensuing gun battle.

I heard all about it on KTVU’s award-winning 10 O’clock News. My friend, whom I’ll call Chappy, was over for dinner that evening. Or maybe I was over at his house. I don’t recall. What I do remember was the somber tone of the reporter and the image of a candlelit shrine on a street corner to honor the fallen officer.

I suggested to Chappy that we go buy one of those pig heads they have for sale at the Lucky Pork store and pay a little visit to that shrine around three in the morning. Chappy would be driving as he was the one with the car. I would be the one hanging out the passenger-side window holding the pig head, ready to hurl it sidearm at the shrine as we drove by. I kept laughing as I described the squeal of tires and how we disappeared into the night, leaving a bunch of pissed-off cops who would gladly kill us given the chance.

The plan was never carried out. It was never my intention for it to be. Just thinking it aloud was enough to satisfy my ugly, mean-spirited side. I wasn’t a complete bastard and while Chappy appreciated my irreverent take on the tragedy, it was pretty obvious the grieving widow would not.

She is dead now too. Cancer got her. You can think of the two of them united in heaven if that’s what floats your boat.

I think Dave Chetcuti is worth mentioning on Memorial Day. Though he did not get killed in a war, his life was sacrificed while protecting civilian  folks like you and me. I am not always a fan of how cops do their job, but the job itself is a necessary one.

That’s the problem I have with Memorial Day. We are supposed to honor those killed in war and that’s fine. The sticking point is that we are also supposed to owe our freedom and survival as Americans to what they died for.

I’m not a pacifist. I dislike war, but I also believe that it is sometimes unavoidable. However, there is a big difference between recognizing a necessary evil and thinking all wars are equally necessary. I’m grateful Hitler’s brand of bullshit never made it to American soil. At the same time, I don’t think I would be any less free if we had never invaded Grenada.

And yet, those who died in either of these conflicts are equally dead. The sacrifice is the same. It’s important, but it does not and should not serve to legitimize whatever ear the person happened to die in. By the same token, fallen soldiers don’t deserve any less honor because the war was not a just one. They are not the ones who decide which wars to fight in. Those decisions are made by people who run little risk of ending up among the war dead.

But why listen to me? I’m just some asshole who thought the idea of hurling a pig’s head at dead cop’s shrine was hilarious.