End of Watch – Part 1

1964Chevy

As Patrolman Carpenter entered the westbound on-ramp (see: Day Shift – December 27, 1973), Dad noticed a light blue 1964 Chevrolet Impala coupe pulled over on the far right shoulder. As Dad pulled up behind the 1964 Chevrolet Impala, Dad switched on his overhead red emergency lights and parked his patrol car (CSP Car #181) right behind the stalled Impala. Apparently not noticing anything that concerned him, Dad again did not notify the CSP Dispatcher of the stop. Dad was following CSP standard operating procedures for checking with the occupants of a disabled vehicle to determine if any assistance was needed. This was the same routine Patrolman Carpenter had followed a hundred times before.

Before Patrolman Carpenter even exited his patrol car, Dad would have noted the exhaust in the crisp cold air coming from the still idling 1964 Chevrolet Impala. With bits of rust showing through the faded paint along the trim and other spots of the nine-year-old Chevy, the well-used 1964 Impala had the same grungy appearance of the young occupants. The driver was a young black male with medium Afro hairstyle hair, a slight build, and was wearing a dark coat (possibly sheepskin). The passenger was a young white male (possibly Hispanic) with long blonde hair (possibly light brown) which came down to his shoulders and an overall disheveled appearance.

It was now about 9:40 AM when Patrolman Carpenter exited his patrol car, approaching the 1964 Impala on the driver’s on his side of the car. After reaching the driver, Dad started asking the driver questions and did not appear to be overly concerned as the passenger slipped out of the passenger door. Undeterred by the inherent risk, Dad continued to talk to the driver, as the passenger started walking to the back of the Impala. Even when it placed him in harms way, Dad was inordinately confident in his ability to safely resolve potentially dangerous situations with his persuasive words and composed demeanor.


According to his close friend and fellow CSP patrolman Kenneth Sniff, Patrolman Carpenter was a “very quiet guy, not shy, not aggressive. You had to push him very far before he’d react.”[1]

Patrolman Carpenter had a reputation of remaining calm and focused under pressure, along with the innate ability to deescalate potentially deadly situations simply by the way he talked to people. Though generally reserved, when Dad encountered dangerous circumstances he was inclined to approach the threat head-on, even if it placed him in harms way. This knack of knowing how to talk to people, had allowed Dad to maintain control even when Dad had placed himself at risk. As a result, Dad had managed to make a number of felony arrests without ever removing his service weapon throughout his career. In spite of his normally unpretentious disposition, Dad was quite proud of this particular accomplishment.

The first instance Patrolman Carpenter demonstrated his distinctive aptitude occurred soon after Dad had been cleared to patrol without a training officer. On this particular occasion, an angry driver had stopped on a highway near Broomfield, exited his vehicle, and was threatening to fire a shotgun he was waving around in his hands. The first CSP patrolman on scene had prudently requested backup, and Dad was the first to respond. As Dad arrived on scene, traffic had come to a halt due to the man’s angry erratic behavior. Without touching his service weapon, Dad began talking to the armed man as Dad left the cover of his patrol car and approached the armed man. After talking for a few minutes, Dad told the man “don’t you think you should just give me that gun” and the man handed Dad the shotgun without further incident.

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Unfortunately for Patrolman Carpenter, the passenger of the 1964 Impala was not in the frame of mind to listen to calming words of reason. After reaching the back of the Impala, the passenger walking between the back of the Impala and the front of the patrol car, and continued walking along the driver’s side of the car. When the passenger reached Dad, there was a brief scuffle in which the suspects were able to gain control of Dad’s service weapon, a .357 caliber Colt Python revolver. Yet Dad somehow did not panic and apparently maintained his composure, as he walked back to his patrol car along with his armed kidnapers.

Several witnesses observed these critical moments. Despite the availability of a telephone at the convenience store at the intersection, none of the witnesses contacted the authorities to report what they had just observed. Several of these witnesses would later come forward and admit they simply had not want to get involved.

After reaching CSP Car #181, the armed kidnappers directed Patrolman Carpenter to get in the driver’s seat and the armed kidnapers both entered the back seat of the patrol car from the roadside of the four-door patrol car. Just a few minutes after 9:40 AM, Dad switched off his overhead emergency lights, calmly pulled CSP Car #181 back into traffic, and merged into the westbound traffic heading towards Boulder. Desperate to escape the criminal predicament they now found themselves, the armed kidnapers tried to sort out some kind of plan that would allow them to escape unscathed.


Around 10:00 AM, a Westminster Police Officer noticed the same disabled light blue 1964 Chevrolet Impala coupe pulled over on the shoulder of the on the Boulder Turnpike westbound on-ramp that led from Broadway. The Westminster Police Officer pulled up behind the empty the still idling Impala and noted the keys were still in the ignition. Despite a quick canvas of the area by the police officer, there were no obvious indications of what had just transpired. Moreover, not a single witness contacted the officer to advise him of what they had observed a mere twenty minutes earlier at this very sight.

Subsequent investigation disclosed the 1964 Chevrolet Impala coupe had been stolen earlier that morning from Mariposa Street and W. 14th Avenue near downtown Denver. In addition, there were indications illegal drugs had been involved. This crime fit the pattern of several other car thefts in the area believe to have been conducted by two of three young (17-22) male associates (one black and two Hispanics). Along with having access to firearms, the suspects were reported to use marijuana, acid, and other illegal drugs when committing their crimes. The suspects were reputed to steal vehicles, including carjacking with a firearm, and then driving the stolen cars to Boulder to obtain more illegal drugs.


Quickly deciding to return to their familiar neighborhoods in Denver, after traveling about two miles on the Boulder Turnpike the kidnapers had Patrolman Carpenter take the first exit for N. Pecos Street. After taking the exit, Dad was directed to cross under the Boulder Turnpike and returning to the Boulder Turnpike in the opposite direction. Now headed away from Boulder back to Denver, Dad calmly maneuvered Car#181 through traffic down the Boulder Turnpike. When they reached the Valley Highway, Dad merged into the southbound lanes of I-25 heading into the heart of Denver.

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Patrolman Carpenter remained composed as he followed the directions of his kidnapers hoping he could ride out this perilous scenario until he had an opportunity to escape or was released. Following the directions of two distressed kidnappers, Dad was careful not to endanger any of the other motorists as he negotiated his way through the treacherous interchange of I-25 and Interstate 70 (I-70), known locally as the “mouse trap”. At this interchange, Dad exited the Valley Highway and merged in the eastbound lanes of I-70 heading away from downtown Denver in the direction of Denver’s Stapleton International Airport.

Interstate 70 (I-70) is the primary thoroughfare for traffic traveling east-west through the Denver metro area. Approximately five miles east of the I-25 and I-70 interchange, was Denver’s Stapleton International Airport. Stapleton International Airport was the primary Denver Airport until it was replaced in 1995 by Denver International Airport.

As Patrolman Carpenter navigated through traffic, several witnesses noticed that the passengers in the patrol car were not acting in a manner customary of individuals transported in police cars. Instead of sitting stoically still with their backs straight against the back seat and equal distance from each other, the passengers were hunched down and moving around in the back seat of the patrol car. This behavior stuck out to a number of drivers and their passengers as they witnessed Dad driving the suspects. Yet, since the patrolman did not outwardly appear distressed and driving normally no one felt there was anything nefarious taking place.

Just before 10:00 AM, the CSP Dispatcher received a report of an accident at 58th Avenue and the Valley Highway. As the accident was in the assigned patrol area for Patrolman Carpenter, the CSP Dispatcher made began attempting to contact Car #181. Though Dad would ordinarily respond promptly to dispatch calls when he was in his regularly assigned patrol car (#131), Dad was known to be slow responding when he patrolling in another car. Consequently, it did not raise any concerns that Dad was not responding to the first few calls from the CSP dispatcher.

After a ten second delay from the last call for Car #181 from the CSP Dispatcher at 10:03 AM, Patrolman Carpenter finally responded back that he was at “Havana and I-70”. The CSP Dispatcher was puzzled by this response. Not only was Havana Street and I-70 over eight miles outside Patrolman Carpenter’s assigned patrol area, the CSP rarely patrolled this section of I-70 under an agreement with the Denver Police Department (DPD).

The jurisdiction of the sections of the interstate system that were within the city limits of Denver was primarily the responsibility of the Denver Police Department (DPD). As this section of I-70 (Havana and I-70) was within the Denver City limits, CSP would not actively patrol this section of the interstate and typically would not cross through this section unless it was in response to a specific assignment.

A bit perplexed, the CSP Dispatcher responded “10-4”, and logically asked Patrolman Carpenter, “What have you got there?”. With two armed kidnapers holding a weapon on him, Dad calmly responded “nothing” hoping the dispatcher picked up on the clue he had just conveyed. Although still somewhat unsettled by Car #181’s location, the CSP Dispatcher responded “10-4” and asked if Dad could respond to an accident at 58th and the Valley Highway. Dad somewhat tersely only responded “10-4”, without the customary confirmation that he was responding to the accident. After approximately twenty minutes of inconceivable trepidation, Dad showed the first signs of distress.

As a Division of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, one of the secondary functions of the CSP was to provide road condition reports. Therefore, the CSP Dispatcher would routinely contact patrol cars approximately every two hours or so and request a “10-13” for a road and weather report.

At 10:04 AM, the CSP Dispatcher again attempted to contact Patrolman Carpenter to request a routine weather check, “Car 181, 10-13 North”. After waiting forty-five seconds for a response, the CSP Dispatcher again called “Car 181”. Ten seconds later, Dad oddly did not respond with the weather report and instead tried to alert the dispatcher something was wrong by responding again “I-70 and Havana”. Sensing something was not right, the CSP Dispatcher again asked, “What’s 10-13 North”. This time Dad responded, “Cloudy and Dry”.

The CSP Dispatcher responded, “10-4”, as he started getting that feeling deep in his gut that something was wrong with Car #181. As the CSP Dispatcher subconsciously tried to piece together the information as to what could be wrong, he began to think of what options might be available. In the meantime, realizing Patrolman Carpenter had alerted the authorities of their current location, the kidnappers had Dad take the next exit off of I-70 at Peoria Street. Instead of patrolling the I-70 corridor as Dad had last reported, Car #181 had changed course and was entering one of the worst crime ridden Denver neighborhoods. A neighborhood the two armed kidnapers were all too familiar with (see: End of Watch – Part 2).

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 New International Version (NIV)

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”  – 2 Timothy 1:7 New International Version (NIV)

God Bless!

[1] The Denver Post,. “Youth Questioned in Slay Case”. December 28, 1973: Page 3. Print.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
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Day Shift – December 27, 1973:

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The air was crisp during the predawn hours in the Denver metro area on the Thursday morning of December 27, 1973. With temperatures in the low to mid teens, the area was still covered with the remnants of a series of winter snow storms that had heavily impacted the front range over the past week. The snow covered landscape provided a picturesque “white” Christmas for the Colorado Rocky Mountain Region, reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Yet, it was cold to the bone for anyone that had to spend any amount of time outside in this frozen landscape.

On the second official day of winter a major blizzard had hit the Denver metro area, lasting from Sunday through the early Monday morning of Christmas Eve. Officially leaving much of the area with a foot or more of fresh snowfall, powerful 30 to 40 mph winds had driven the snow into deep drifts. In addition to paralyzing the Denver metro area, the December 23-24 blizzard had closed Denver’s Stapleton International Airport overnight stranding thousands of holiday travelers. Some passengers were even forced to spend the night sleeping in their grounded airliners.

“Through the metro area, even snowplows and wreckers were getting stuck Monday Morning” A spokesman for the Colorado Division of Highways reported the agency had “thrown every available man and rig into it’s snow removal effort” with “some of the division’s trucks bogged down in deep drifts – a few reported as high as eight feet”.[1]

Our family had missed the worst of inclement weather by driving some 250 miles west to Grand Junction on the western slope of Colorado the previous Saturday (December 23). It was customary for our family to celebrate at least a portion of nearly every holiday season with my uncle’s family and my grandparents. In fact, the previous Christmas (1972) had been our largest celebration of the holidays. My uncle had accepted a promotion that required him to move with his family to Alaska that following February. To send them off, our entire maternal side of the family had gathered at our home in Lafayette. This would be the last Christmas all of us would spend together.

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This Christmas (1973), my uncle and his family had flown back down from Alaska to spend the holidays with family in Grand Junction and Moab (Utah). With their mother having trouble with her heart, both my mom and her brother especially wanted to be with my grandmother this Christmas. To allow our family to spend more time together in Grand Junction this year, my dad, a patrolman with the Colorado State Patrol (CSP), had traded shifts with another patrolman.


A Christian man with a strong moral compass, CSP Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter was known for his integrity and compassion. Dad was quiet about his faith, letting his actions speak louder than his words. Determined to “treat others the same way you want them to treat you”[2], Dad was respectful to everyone and careful never to be judgmental or demeaning of others. As a result, everyone that knew Patrolman Carpenter was well aware of his Christian faith and respected him for it.

After Dad completed his training, Dad was assigned to the small CSP District Office in Lafayette. Lafayette was a small town of around 3,500 residents located just twenty-six miles east of Boulder on Baseline Road and thirty-eight miles north of the center of Denver on US Highway 287. Although the CSP later moved this District Office to nearby Broomfield, our family continued to live in Lafayette where Dad had become established in the community. After I joined the Cub Scouts, Dad volunteered to lead a group of older boys in Webelos, and then Dad agreed to head the local Boy Scout Chapter.

“I was a fatherless youth growing up in Lafayette, Colorado. Officer Tom Carpenter was our Boy Scout Leader and one of the more significant influences on my youth. I remember the cloud over Christmas that year. I attended the funeral and I will never forget the image of all the law enforcement agencies that showed their support. Husband, Father, and Scout Leader Tom Carpenter will always be a positive memory in my thoughts.” – Warren Charter[3]

Though quiet, Dad also had a dry sense of humor with and a penchant for teasing, something my mom never quite fully appreciated. Dad and my maternal uncle thoroughly enjoyed teasing us kids as well as each other. This led to a Christmas tradition in which Dad and my uncle to give each other a gift poking fun of one another. Perhaps enjoying his work too much, on more than one occasion Patrolman Carpenter took great pleasure in seeing the reaction of family and friends when Dad pulled them over while he was out on patrol. One time Dad pulled over my aunt and even order her to “keep her hands where he could seem them” using the PA System of the patrol car so my aunt did not know it was Dad.


As my parents prepared to leave on Wednesday morning, Mom had a sense of foreboding. Mom was distraught with guilt, felling the need to stay longer with her mother instead of going back to Lafayette. Not knowing the next time that we would all be together, shortly before our family pilled into the car to leave my uncle had everyone gather in the front yard of the home of my grandparents to take a few pictures to commemorate the occasion. No one knew at the time these would be the last pictures taken of my dad while he was alive. With the pictures taken, the families said their goodbyes and Dad drove us back over the mountain passes to Lafayette so Dad could report to work early the following morning.

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Following his short five day reprieve from work, the work day started early for Dad on December 27, 1973. Mom was still worried about her mother and had not slept well, so Mom did not get up early to make Dad breakfast that Thursday morning. Instead, Mom simply gave Dad a kiss goodbye, before she rolled over to sleep a little bit longer. With no garage at our home, our car had been parked outside in the frigid cold all night. To get to the CSP Broomfield District Office on time, Dad had to leave our house by 5:30AM to make an extremely cold 15-20 minute commute to work the “day shift” which started at 6:00 AM.

For his last shift, Patrolman Carpenter was not assigned CSP Patrol Car #131 that Dad had generally been driving. Since Dad had switched shifts with another patrolman, Dad was instead assigned CSP Patrol Car #181 to patrol a section of the Interstate 25 corridor stretching north from the Denver city limits (near the intersection with I-70) to the 104th Avenue exit. Known locally as the Valley Highway, Interstate 25 was the primary thoroughfare for traffic traveling north-south through the Denver metro area.

Like most large metropolitan cities, the typical workday commuter traffic on this section of the Valley Highway would have been heavily congested between 6:30 AM until around 9:30 AM. Due to the residual winter driving conditions, traffic likely would be traveling at slower speeds that morning, stretching out the morning commute by as much as 30 minutes to an hour longer.

As usual, Patrolman Carpenter departed the CSP Broomfield District Office on time and was driving to his assigned patrol area by 6:00 AM that cold Thursday morning. His assigned CSP patrol car, Car #181, was a new well marked white CSP Plymouth Fury cruiser with two overhead “bubble” emergency lights permanently mounted through the roof of the car. Fortunately for Dad, Car #181 would likely still have been warm from having been used on the “graveyard shift” by another CSP patrolman.

As he departed from the CSP office, Patrolman Carpenter likely would have driven Car #181 down US Highway 36 approximately ten miles to access his assigned patrol area on the Valley Highway. This section of US Highway 36, locally known as the Boulder Turnpike, was the primary expressway for traffic between Denver (south-east) and Boulder (north-west). Traveling south-east down the Boulder Turnpike, Dad would have then entered the southern end of his patrol area when the Boulder Turnpike merged into the Valley Highway.

Despite the frigid cold temperatures, Patrolman Carpenter diligently went about his work making vehicle stops after reaching his assigned patrol area on the Valley Highway. In the first 70 minute, Dad recorded in his log book making three self-initiated traffic stops. In the first stop, Dad issued the driver an verbal warning for driving a vehicle with defective equipment (possibly a brake light not working). In the next two stops, Dad issued verbal warnings to drivers for minor moving violations (possibly failure to use a turn signal or driving too fast for the conditions). Due to the minor nature of the vehicle stops, Dad did not notify the CSP Dispatcher of the stops.

Even though the patrol car radio was the only “line” of communication available for the CSP patrolmen, CSP procedures did not require patrolmen making self-initiated traffic stops to notify the CSP Dispatcher. Typically, when making a self-initiated stop a CSP patrolman did not notify the dispatch office unless traffic was impeded or some type of additional assistance needed. 

At 7:11 AM, Patrolman Carpenter received his first call-out from the CSP Dispatcher and was assigned to investigate an accident at the Valley Highway and 84th Avenue. Dad notified the dispatcher that he was on the scene of the accident at 7:19 AM. The accident, located in the southbound left-hand lane of the Valley Highway, involved a gold 1969 Pontiac coupe that had failed to stop on the slick pavement before rear-ending a green sedan. Dad conducted his on scene investigation of the accident and ticketed the male driver of the gold Pontiac coupe for careless driving.

After the accident, the gold 1969 Pontiac coupe was towed to Gavito’s Towing on 58th Avenue. To complete his investigation, Patrolman Carpenter followed the towed 1969 Pontiac. Dad reported to the CSP dispatcher at 8:23 AM that he would be out of service for a few minutes at Gravito’s Towing. For the next thirty minutes, Dad careful reviewed the damaged 1969 Pontiac and completed his report without any additional delays to the morning commuter traffic on the Valley Highway.

At 8:56 AM, Patrolman Carpenter reported to the CSP Dispatcher that he had returned to service. To return to his assigned patrol area on the Valley Highway, Dad would have taken 58th Avenue west back to the intersection with the Valley Highway. After, Dad resumed his assigned area of the Valley Highway, Dad made another self-initiated vehicle stop a short time before 9:30 AM.

This time, Patrolman Carpenter stopped a northbound car on the Valley Highway just before the 62nd Avenue bypass. The northbound car was driven by a male driver and had three other occupants. As before, Dad did not notify the CSP Dispatcher of the vehicle stop. Dad informed the driver that one of the tires on the car was very bad and needed to be replaced. As Dad had done previously, Dad did not issue the driver with a citation, choosing to let the driver off with only a verbal warning for driving a defective vehicle.

As a Division of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, one of the primary functions of the CSP was to “promote safety” and “protect human life” by notifying motorist if their vehicle were unsafe to drive. Depending on the severity, It was up to the discretion of the CSP patrolman to issue a warning or cite the motorist if the unsafe issue had not resulted in property damage (an accident).


It had been over five years since Patrolman Carpenter had taken a pay cut to join the CSP. Dad had joined the CSP so he could make a difference in his community by helping others. During his career with the Colorado State Patrol, there were no records of any complaints ever filed against Dad. Yet, there were several letters of commendation. In one such letter, the motorist stated Dad “found a place to turn around and came back to assist us. I have never been treated better”, Patrolman Carpenter “was so helpful and courteous with thoughtful understanding.”[4] At the age of 31, Dad had recently passed his sergeants exam and was entering the prime of his career.

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After warning a driver of the bad tire, Patrolman Carpenter continued patrolling north on his assigned section of the Valley Highway. Sometime around 9:35 AM, Dad exited the Valley Highway to take the Boulder Turnpike north-west to Boulder. Dad was making his way to attend a scheduled 11:00 AM hearing at the Boulder County Courthouse regarding a speeding citation. Approximately ten miles from the CSP Broomfield District Office, Dad passed through the busy intersection with Broadway to enter the westbound on-ramp of the Boulder Turnpike.

With a traffic light to help manage the multiple lanes of traffic, Broadway remains one of the principle north-south arteries transversing the Denver metro area. Running parallel to the westbound on-ramp until it merges with the Boulder Turnpike is the lightly traveled Bronco Road. In 1973, the small homes facing south along this segment of Bronco Road overlooked the westbound on-ramp. Around 9:35 AM, this congested and well populated intersection was one of the last places anyone would expect a patrolman in a marked patrol car to make his last call in the clear view of everyone that happened to be there that morning (see: End of Watch – part 1).

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms…If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ…” – 1 Peter 4:10-11[5]

God Bless!

 

[1] The Denver Post,. “Wind-Driven Snow Chokes City”. December 24, 1973: Page 1. Print.

[2] Luke 6:31, New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[3] The Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP),. 2016. “Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter”. https://www.odmp.org/officer/reflections/2820-patrolman-thomas-ray-carpenter.

[4] Wayne C. Keith, Colorado State Patrol Chief, 1973 “Eulogy of Patrolman Thomas Ray Carpenter”.

[4] New International Version (NIV).

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.