Padecky: Life lesson on the way to a wrestling tournament

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

KELSEYVILLE — For a mile-and-a-half they watched, spellbound.

“I can’t believe,” Faith Rodriguez was thinking to herself, “I’m looking at this.”

Kelseyville assistant wrestling coach Rob Brown, center, shakes hands with wrestler Tylor Smith. Head coach Elvis Smith is at left. (Photo by DAWN SMITH)

Kelseyville assistant wrestling coach Rob Brown, center, shakes hands with wrestler Tylor Smith. Head coach Elvis Smith is at left. (Photo by DAWN SMITH)

It was 5:45 on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 8, and the Kelseyville High School wrestling team was traveling south in a seven-vehicle caravan on Highway 29. They were headed to Elsie Allen for a tournament that morning. They had been on the road only 15 minutes.

“I thought the driver was either drunk or texting,” said Rob Brown, one of the team’s wrestling coaches who was driving his truck, the lead vehicle.

The caravan had come upon a white van that was going a bit slower but, alarmingly, weaving all over the road. Brown tried to calm the five wrestlers in his truck with his trademark humor.

“After a brief time,” Brown said, “I determined the driver was drunk and texting.”

Brown gave a respectful distance and then the driver made the move that scared and shocked Rodriguez, her 17 teammates and all the parents and coaches in the procession.

The driver, a woman, moved the van ever so slowly but deliberately to the left lane, to the opposite lane, where oncoming traffic would approach.

“Is the driver trying to play chicken with oncoming drivers?” thought freshman Robert Clark.

They stared and shook their heads and silently they all were thinking what Rodriguez was thinking.

“Come on … move over … get over … get back in our lane.”

The van didn’t. For a mile-and-a-half, the driver stayed in that oncoming lane, going south in that northbound lane. It was pitch black.

“The driver was actually driving better in that lane than she was in ours,” Brown said.

Of all the reactions coaches, parents and athletes were having, freshmen Tylor Smith had perhaps the most mature response.

“What kind of day did this driver have?” Smith wondered.

Around not one, not two, but around three blind curves the driver continued without incident. Rodriguez and Smith both thought they were going to see their first traffic accident.

“Was I going to see someone die in front of me?” she said.

Going into the fourth blind corner a pick-up truck approached. The van driver didn’t a make move to evade. At the last second the driver of the pick-up truck jerked his vehicle right to avoid contact, hitting the gravel on the shoulder. In a reaction very much delayed, the driver of the van eased the car back into the southbound lane.

“But she did it slowly,” Brown said, “as if she was casually passing someone.”

That’s when Brown decided he was going to follow this drunk driver to ends of the Earth if necessary.

“I wanted to get her off the road,” he said. “I was hoping she would drift a little more to the right so I could get the nose of my truck in front of the van and force her off the road.”

Didn’t happen. Brown got on his cell and called the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. Told them the situation, the location. For a total of 10 minutes, Brown estimated, he followed the van, 4 to 5 miles the distance. The six cars behind Brown followed him and didn’t challenge the strategy. This was Rob Brown, for criminey sakes, a legend in these parts. He’s been a bail bondsman for 22 years. He’s captured fugitives in 37 states, even gone to London and Tijuana to bring back a bad guy. Brown had everyone’s trust.

Without warning, not even a turn signal, the van made a sharp left into Hidden Valley Lake, a gated community just north of Middletown. The van approached a locked gate. The driver couldn’t open the gate and decided to back up. Right into Brown’s truck. Brown exited his truck, walked to the van’s driver side, told the woman to keep both hands on the steering wheel.

“I put the vehicle in ‘park’ and removed the keys,” Brown said. “I told her I had called the police. She was very compliant. Then I called the police dispatcher and told her the situation. She said, ‘Please, don’t get out of your car.’ I said I already had.”

Brown distributed his five wrestlers to the other vehicles, sent them on their way, while he waited for law enforcement. The woman was booked and charged with DUI alcohol/drugs. A court date was set for February.

When Kelseyville athletic director Steve Olson was asked for his reaction to Brown following, stopping and getting out of his truck to disable the drunk driver, he just smiled.

“That kind of sums up Rob,” Olson said. “He’s a go-getter. He’s a no-nonsense type of guy.”

Brown is a bail bondsman. Bail bondsmen tend to be rather assertive fellows, not easily intimidated. A county supervisor as well, Brown is a 1978 graduate of the high school. He has lived in the area most of his life. You can’t throw a chili dog around here without hitting someone who has a Rob Brown story.

Maybe the most inspiring story was how Brown, 52, spearheaded the financing and building of a 2,400-square foot high school wrestling facility. Volunteers worked 6,000 hours. Material donations totaled $40,000. Built over the summer of 2011, the building is worth $300,000 on the open market.

A coach in multiple sports for 20 years in the area, Brown was tired of his wrestlers practicing without a facility. On the school’s grass, in an abandoned school a mile-and-a-half away or in a vacated classroom, Brown was weary of being a vagabond and throwing mats down at the first-available space.

“I’m not one to turn a blind eye,” Brown said, and he employs that zeal daily. He is aggressive, zealous maybe, for change, improvement and, above all, the health and safety of the people in the area he so loves.

All that said, Brown would not encourage others to get out of their car and approach a drunk driver.

“I would recommend staying inside your car,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of crazy people out there but, because of my training and experience, I felt she wasn’t one of them.”

Beyond simply the bizarre nature of the event — said Smith, “I’m probably going to remember this for the rest of my life and have a story to tell people” — another lifelong consequence was achieved. “Driving drunk” is not just a phrase anymore to the kids who witnessed the spectacle.

“I wouldn’t even take a little sip if I was to drive,” Smith said. “Really, what’s the point?”

Rodriguez imagined herself in that car, driving dangerously, with people staring fearfully and disapprovingly as she did. It is a powerful and influencing mental exercise, thinking of oneself as the object of pity and disgust, not to mention being the person responsible for possible injury and death.

For a mile-and-a-half the caravan watched spellbound, wondering if horror was coming around the next blind curve. This was a real-time, real-life event that possessed such educational value, none of the three wrestlers interviewed disagreed when Brown made the most appropriate comment of all.

“That woman was very lucky,” he said

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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