"When I was the First to Arrive...."

Updated 4 years ago
"When I was the First to Arrive...."
Photo by Chris Spencer

EDITOR'S NOTE: Although Skip Holbrook has moved on to Columbia, S.C., HNN offers as a "thank you" his speech from 2009 on Law Enforcement Memorial Day in which he spoke emotionally about an incident when he arrived first on an officer down scene....

by Skip Holbrook

Former Huntington Chief of Police

On August 5, 1990, I was working the evening shift on the west side of Charlotte, North Carolina. This particular district had a reputation for being considerably dangerous and violent. I certainly respected this reputation but was very confident in myself and my fellow officers. We handled intense situations routinely and took great pride in how we policed our district.
I was working as a Field Training Officer with a new, young female officer. We had just cleared from a domestic call and had pulled over to discuss how she handled the call. As I sat talking in the car, the radio sounded with two alert tones and I heard the Dispatcher say, “Officer down; stand by”.
The next thing I heard was the Dispatcher giving the location of the downed officer. I was just a few blocks from his location. I responded immediately and was on the scene in less than a minute --- I was the first to arrive. At that point, my life changed forever. I found 32-year-old Charlotte Police Officer Terry Lyles shot, lying on the ground near his police cruiser.
I made my way to where Terry was lying on the ground, telling myself, “He’s just injured; get him out of danger.”
But when I got to his side, I knew he was seriously wounded. We were able to recover Officer Lyles from further danger and deliver him to Emergency Medical Technicians that were waiting down the street. Terry was taken to a nearby hospital where he died a short time later from multiple gunshot wounds. The suspect was apprehended, convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole.
This was a tragedy that truly changed me. How did this change me and what did I learn? No longer was I just hearing the words --- “Police work can be dangerous. I had witnessed violence and deadly force toward a police officer first hand. I learned danger is indiscriminate. I learned that complacency is not acceptable. I learned that mental and physical preparedness for duty is paramount”.
I thought I already knew these things, but I didn’t. This tragedy registered these important lessons in my mind forever. I also found out just how strong our families can be. I watched how strong and steady Terry’s family was throughout the funeral and subsequent trial. I saw how my family, as well as other officers families, rallied around their loved ones and each other as everyone grieved the loss of a fellow officer. And, finally, I saw just how strong our law enforcement family can be, always standing together.
I would experience the loss of a fellow officer three more times. Each time, you lose a part of your heart; but, each time, the law enforcement community and families rally around one another. We pull together and we become better. I pray I never experience another loss of an officer in the line of duty.
My message to all of you, officers, troopers, deputies, retired officers, and especially families of our fallen officers --- you are and will always be a part of the law enforcement family --- especially the Huntington Police Department family. Our fallen officers, our fallen heroes, will be remembered for their lives and service to our department and this great community… Their memories will forever be remembered, never forgotten.
I am honored to be Huntington’s Police Chief and proud to be part of such a rich tradition and a strong law enforcement family.
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