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Monday, January 2, 2023

You Can't Measure This Heart

Munith Fred Higbee. One of the very best. A cop story.

I met Fred in 1983. He was about 64 years old at the time. He was the process/civil order server for the Sheriff's Office in Blaine County Idaho. A uniformed position.  I was a newly hired jailer.

Fred had been a cook in the Navy. He was present in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked. I always pictured him on the deck of some ship shooting at Zeroes. He retired from the Navy after the war. He began a second career as a cook for the Sun Valley Company ski resort. I don't know how many years he worked there. I do know that it would have been in the 50's and I think one of the railroads owned Sun Valley and that technically Fred worked for the railroad.

In 1981 or thereabouts, Fred wrapped up that career and decided to become a deputy sheriff. He was the oldest man at that time to graduate from the Idaho State police academy. He didn't finish near the bottom either. Mid pack as I recall, he was a 63 year old who could run 1.5 miles in 14 mins., do 20 pushups and 35 sit ups. I think the avg age in the academy was 29 at that time.

Fred had a great work ethic and always had a daily routine. I remember one day at the office, I had made the coffee that morning. Fred took one look at the finished pot and poured it into the sink. He then pulled out the carrier, filled the filter to the brim with coffee, and restarted the coffee maker. That coffee was black and thick. Fred looked at me and said, "that was real coffee."

My favorite thing about Fred was what a horrible driver he was. His driving was legendary, simply awful.

I am going to tell you a few stories about his driving, all of which I witnessed. I have many more.

Fred drove fast. All the time. He was the king of distracted drivers long before cell phones made it common.

I was following Fred up a county highway one day in my personal car. Fred was in his patrol car and obviously not paying attention. This was a two-lane highway at the time and people were constantly slowing and turning into subdivisions before they finally put in some turn lanes. Anyway, Fred looked up just in time to see that the car in front of him was stopping to turn left and there was oncoming traffic. With no time to stop, Fred jerked the wheel right to avoid a rear ender, slammed on the brakes, skid marks through the fog line, off the pavement and into the ditch. I watched as he traveled at 50 MPH or so about two hundred feet down the ditch, as the car was bouncing wildly. Fred brought 'er back up on the road, past the car that he nearly hit, and continued down the highway like nothing happened.

We used to have those barrels during hunting season where hunters would skin their deer and elk and donate the hide. I suppose some group tanned the hides and sold them. Anyway, every year during hunting season, they put one of those barrels on the corner, just one block from the sheriff's office. One snowy morning when the road was slick, I watched as Fred came down the hill in his car going way too fast. He tried to turn right but the front end was sliding. It suddenly caught the curb, jumped it, and he smacked that metal deer and elk hide barrel and sent it careening down Main. Spilling out a hide or two in the process. Fred simply kept going like it was nobody's business.

We had a jailer, Mike, and I don't think Fred was a big fan of Mike's. One day Mike had bought 6 snow shovels for the inmates to use as they cleared all the walks and driveways at the sheriff's office. Mike had placed all six of the shovels in the center bay, on the floor, and had spray painted some identifying marks on them. He was letting them dry. Pretty soon Fred came wheeling up, hit his garage door opener, and promptly ran over all six shovels snapping them in half and ruining them. Mike started yelling holy hell at Fred. Fred looked at Mike and said they shouldn't have been there. Mike looked at me, for sympathy, and said "Do you believe that shit?" I looked at Mike and said Fred was right.

I will not tell you how Fred shot out the rear window, front seat, and steering wheel of his patrol car with a 30-30 rifle I had sold him. I will just say, he told me before selling the gun back to me, that he had never fired it. About 30 seconds later, with one round still hanging in the chamber, Fred fired that gun for the very first time. The trustee who was in the garage was shell shocked. I remember it well. It was the hardest I ever laughed in my life. I could not quit laughing. Between Fred holding that gun in a state of shock and Terry the trustee standing their gaping- I tried, really, I did. But I couldn't hold it in. I was laughing hours later on a traffic stop and remember a motorist looking at me like I was nuts.

Fred retired after 20 years. Lived a couple more before leaving this plane for the next. One of the best, zaniest, characters that I have ever met. You can't measure that heart.