A Tragedy of Errors

A police officer died while doing his job. But why is his department spreading untruths about his final call?

With emotion rising in his voice, Caulfield asked, "What are you talking about?"

"A policeman fell off the bridge trying to get your car stopped."

"There was no policeman in front of the car on the road," Caulfield almost pleaded. "I didn't hit a policeman."

Private dick Max Caulfield with the tools of his trade
Melissa Jones
Private dick Max Caulfield with the tools of his trade

"Sit down."

So Caulfield sat on the pavement.

"I got out of my car thinking I was going to get shot to death," he says, "and this was worse than that. I was thinking, 'I have done nothing in my life to cause this. '"

The police officers kept looking over the wall. Caulfield stood beside the growing horde of police officers looking over the wall. Running alongside I-95 was a connecting road leading to Interstate 595. The two highways were just three feet apart, and Caulfield assumed they were connected by pavement. He saw a gap of blackness leading to a bed of rocks below. There was no pavement.

"I can still see him down there," he says with an ominous note. "I've been seeing him down there every time I close my eyes. I saw him real good."

After looking at Diaz, he addressed the Wilton Manors officer.

"Oh, my God, I didn't flash a badge at anyone. I've done nothing wrong, and if I did, I would tell you right now."

The officer's demeanor had changed. He looked at the badge and the identification in the wallet. Other cops recognized Caulfield as a legitimate P.I. The lead officer apologized for what he'd said in the heat of the moment. Caulfield told him he understood. Then he was told he was free to go.

"I'm thinking, 'Go? I'm not going anywhere until I find out what happened to this officer,'" Caulfield recalls. "That made no sense to me. How was I supposed to leave?"

As officers stood on the road with tears in their eyes, it took several tense minutes for medics to get to Diaz under the bridge. Caulfield began to gather what had happened. Diaz, who was off-duty at the time he heard the call, had pulled up behind the original two patrol cars and crept along the retaining wall. Getting in position, Diaz jumped over the wall, apparently thinking exactly what Caulfield had assumed — that the two roadways were connected by pavement.

"There are two walls three feet apart, and your mind fills in voids," Caulfield says. "I would have done the same thing as Diaz."

Sometime after 6 a.m., a traffic homicide detective told Caulfield that Diaz had died. Cop after cop approached him and assured him it wasn't his fault. He remembers a police captain walking up to him, shaking him, and saying, "You understand this had nothing to do with you... Don't you leave this bridge thinking that."

Finally, the sunrise that he'd hoped he'd live to see came and he realized the media had arrived on the scene. Thinking that Christine might recognize the Crown Vic on television, he called her at home.

"Something horrible's happened, but I'm OK," he told her.

"You wrecked the car," she guessed.

"No, far worse than that," he said. "I'm up on a bridge, and a policeman fell and was killed."

"What does that have to do with you?"

It's a question that will probably haunt Max Caulfield for the rest of his life.

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