Many Western Mass. residents will have heard about the wild ride of a U-HAUL truck involved in a robbery through Springfield's North End last night. Springfield police chased down Efrain Rodriguez, 42, when he fled the truck after leading police up Main, down Chestnut, and all around the side streets. The Republican covered the story this morning.
Here's a piece of the story you won't be hearing about anyplace but here.
My nephew Steve (the one who helped me break the story about Wendy's closings around the region) is now working at Taco Bell's. My nephew was closing and got out of work about 3 am. He'd already decided to stay overnight at his best friend Josh's place. Josh lives in the North End, is Puerto Rican, and has been a family friend for a number of years.
Josh met Steve halfway so he wouldn't have to walk the whole distance alone (still shorter than going home would have been). While walking, they became aware of the U-HAUL careening through the neighborhood with the police following close behind. By the time they got to Josh's house, the U-HAUL was parked across the street, the driver had fled, and a police car was pulled over to the curb.
"Hey, did you catch the guy yet?" Josh called out to the officers in the cruiser. One officer responded.
"Who are you? Get over here!"
Josh and Steve started walking toward the cruiser. Josh was carrying two pebbles in his hand that he'd been playing with as they walked and he dropped them to the ground as the two of them approached.
"He dropped something!" the officer said. He grabbed Josh and threw him up against the cruiser hard. "What did you drop?"
"Just two little stones!" Josh said. He was frisked by the cop, then Steve was frisked (although not manhandled) and they were both put into the back of the cruiser. The two officers went over the ground with flashlights but of course didn't find anything.
For the next hour Josh and Steve went on a wild ride with the police.
"They were going through red lights, speeding around the corner, and we were just sliding all over the place in the back seat," Josh told me. Steve still had his cell phone and was trying to work up the nerve to use it to call his mom and dad.
"What are you going to do with us?" Josh asked the officers.
"Execute you," one of the cops said, making a joke, although it didn't feel very funny to Josh and Steve.
After about 45 minutes the officers got a call on the radio that the U-HAUL's driver had been captured. A few minutes after that one of the officers turned to Josh and Steve.
"What should we do with you?" he said.
"Just drop us back where you found us," Josh said.
"What are you going to do if we drop you off?"
"Go home and go to bed," Josh said.
So the officers dropped them off.
I guess the officers were right to suspect them initially, but they were wrong to manhandle Josh and they were wrong to keep the young men in the cruiser as they continued to chase a potentially dangerous individual.
Most of all, they were wrong to to add to the layers of suspicion that too many young men already feel about the Springfield police.