Bus Check in LaPryor

Having a subject you've just arrested virtually die in front of you on a crowded bus can get you some nice looks...

As the weeks passed into months in my career, I was no longer required to ride with someone else.  I still would, off and on, but the ability to patrol alone was important.

I had conducted bus checks with Charlie Carter, Jim Banks, Ken LaMascus and the other two trainees.  We usually checked them in Uvalde but it was soon found that the bus comes straight up Hwy 57 from Eagle Pass, went through Batesville and LaPryor, but didn’t come up through Uvalde.  And it was an early bus-arriving about the middle of our muster at the coffee shop.

One morning, feeling like I needed to excel, I skipped coffee and went straight over to Batesville to catch the bus.  I hoped to bring back a few subjects I apprehended. 

The bus, a greyhound going from Eagle Pass to San Antonio, would stop and pick up any people along the highway that waved it down.  Groups would walk around our checkpoints or walk for two or more days paralleling the highway and then wait in the brush for the bus.  Usually one or two subjects would go out to the highway and wave down the bus while the rest waited in the safety of the brush.  Once the bus stopped, the rest would come out of the brush and board.  It is a much cheaper and safer transportation method than being smuggled!

At Batesville, I watched the bus pull into the graveled parking lot of a small store where other passengers waited.  I had already checked the potential passengers in the store and walked out back to see if more were waiting.  No such luck.

I boarded the bus and announced, as I was trained to do, “Morning, United States Border Patrol.  Please state if you are a citizen of the United States.  If you are not, please have your immigration paperwork ready.”  I then did the same in Spanish-broken Spanish, but I’m sure everyone understood why I was there.

I walked row to row, “Hi, U.S. Border Patrol, of what country are y’all citizens?” The passengers, acclimated to the Border Patrol presence and questions, normally had their documentation to prove their LAPR(Lawfully Admitted Permanent Resident=Green card) status or would just say U.S. Citizen.  The bus was extremely crowded and few of the occupants spoke any English.  This was very common and expected. 

Any border patrol agent worth a damn can tell within the first seconds whether a passenger is worth further investigation, further questioning.  I robotically went from row to row, minimally examining the documents the passengers presented, or saying ‘thank you’ to passengers who didn’t require any more questions.  You can just tell, after a while, and although I was still new, I had checked enough busses to know which passengers to check further.

Towards the back of the bus were three individuals who were too obvious in their ignoring of me, all looking down at their laps as if they were deeply absorbed in reading a novel or a magazine article.  I knew before I ever asked them the first question that they were illegally in the U.S. 

“Of what country are you a citizen of?”  I asked in English.  Although many of the other passengers didn’t speak English, I always asked in English first. 

“U S City.”  Was the reply from the first individual in very broken English. 

“Where were you born?”  I asked in Spanish. The man, in his mid-thirties, with worn and dirty clothes and a dark complexion, appeared tired to the bone with a defeated demeanor.  He was worn from his minimum of two-day hike through the South Texas brush country and knew his trip was over.

“Mexico, senior.”

“Do you have papers?”  I asked skipping the more formal question for I knew he understood.

“No, senior, I don’t have any.”  His voice resigned to the arrest that would surely occur.

The other two were the same, poor men from Guanajuato.  Nothing about these three gave me any concern but I was new and careful. 

“Follow me,”  I ordered in Spanish not allowing any waivering or unsureness to show in my voice.  The last man was right behind me.  He was younger than the other two and as he stood, I saw the fear dripping down in sweat drops from his forehead.  My guard went up one increment.

Shuffling sideways so that I could see the men behind me and keep my gun away from them, I led the three towards the front of the bus.  When we were no more than three or four rows from the driver, I felt something was wrong. My senses were peaked. Suddenly, as I’m turning back towards the closest man, his hand came up and my instinct told me he was going to grab me or worse. I instantly reacted, grabbing the man’s shirt in the middle of his chest, attempting to show this individual that I was in control and willing to fight. 

I thought the fight was on but the man, whose shirt I grasped tightly just below his chin, melted in front of me, his eyes rolling backwards and the strength that had easily held him vanished.  I struggled to keep him from crashing to the floor but my awkward position only allowed me to slow his fall. Luckily, the man behind him, who was as surprised as I was, was close enough to block him from falling straight backwards.  He crumpled into a boneless mass and, ushering the other two backwards, I was able to lay him flat out. 

He lay on the aisle between dozens of shocked passengers.  He was pale and I wasn’t sure he was breathing.  I was on the feet end of him and the aisle was narrow so I could perform any type of medical assistance without great difficulty.  I probably panicked! 

“Call an ambulance!” I yelled in English but no one seemed to comprehend. Suddenly even elementary Spanish was beyond my capabilities as tunnel vision crowded away my potential.  “Call an ambulance!”  I looked straight into the eyes of a woman in the first row, she was no more than 20 and I guess my instinct hoped she could understand. 

“From where?”  She asked and her look of confusion irritated me.  This was before the commonplace possession of cell phones and most people never imagined owning one.

“Inside the store.  Go inside of the store and use their phone!”  Still English but much more complicated.  She must have understood as she exited the bus. 

I kneeled with the unconscious man, hoping to remember my first aid.  I tried to feel a pulse in his neck but without luck.  I was sure he had died.  The man that I would only send back to Mexico in just a few hours; the man who would start tomorrow as another day; who probably would eventually get by the inadequate net that the United States Border Patrol had cast, had died.  Shock set into me.

A few seconds passed.  I was at his feet and the aisle of the bus was very narrow.  I knew CPR but stalled at the awkwardness of performing it right here in front of the packed bus.  I knew it would be better to get him off the bus.  I turned to the driver and asked him for help but honestly, I didn’t know how we could even move the man.    As I hesitated, not knowing what to do or how to move him, he sputtered and life returned to his face.  He had had a seizure or maybe fainted or who knows what had caused it.  Relief coursed through my body. 

The bus driver was behind me.  “What did you do to him?”  His words accusatory, as if I had shot or maybe punched the man causing him to collapse. 

“He just fainted!”  I replied nervously, comprehending that EVERYONE on the bus was watching me, thinking the same thing as the bus driver--that I had caused this man to almost die right there on the bus!

The siren of the ambulance sheltered me from anymore accusations. 

I left the man, who now was awake but lethargic.  I exited the bus and met a young woman and an older man who wore EMS uniforms.  “A man on the bus collapsed!”  I spit out guiltily.  “He was walking behind me and he just fainted.”  I didn’t want to say more.  I didn’t really know if he had had a heart attack or something much more minor. 

“Is he in your custody?”  The older EMS man asked.

“No.  You guys can take him.”  I had already been told that any person discovered injured or sick should not be arrested as it incurs costs to the Border Patrol—something that was not readily accepted.  But what should I do if I was the catalyst that caused the injury or sickness?  I couldn’t call someone to get their advice.  It was my decision.  “Take him.  We’ll follow up at the hospital.”  I lied, as I knew that the agents that I worked with would never go to the hospital to pick up this individual and possibly be responsible for the expenses being incurred. 

The ambulance representatives couldn’t get a stretcher onto the bus but instead we got the man to his feet and walked him out of the bus.  The man, unsteady on his feet, made it to the stretcher where he happily laid down.

I watched as the EMS personnel loaded the stretcher into the ambulance and immediately departed.  I stood dumbfounded for a moment, then realized I had two other men who I’d determined to be illegally in the U.S.  I re-boarded the bus, and motioned for the two men to get up and follow me.  I avoided eye contact with the passengers not wanting to see their accusatory glares but in reality they were probably in shock. 

The two men followed me as if they were zombies; as I’m sure they too were traumatized by the event that had just occurred!

We returned to Uvalde in silence.  The many possible actions my peers and supervisor would take coursing through my mind.  My two prisoners sat just as silently, surely devastated by the events. 

At the Uvalde Border Patrol Station, Sammie Stewart, Jim Banks, Murphy Don Butler and Charlie Carter were all there.  After worriedly telling my story, they all laughed and said I had handled it perfectly.  At that, I still remember Jim saying that I might get a medal for bringing the man back to life!

Nothing else was said.  The journeymen agents would tell the story here and there about me killing and then bringing back to life an alien on the bus but it was all in a positive manner.

Me, I didn’t check another bus alone for a while!  

Welcome to my world...