By Rick Stiebel
There are days in a journalist’s life where copy flows freely in a succinct style that lends itself effortlessly to writing and reading. This is not one of those times.
I’ve been dragged down by the weight of words not yet written. A rusty anchor is tied to my heart since the RCMP confirmed the identity of the Mountie killed in an early morning crash on April 5.
I drove by the scene on the way to work, saw the crumpled cruiser that crushed away a life and selfishly thought, “I hope it’s no one I know.”
That was the first story assigned while filling in at my old newspaper during what I thought would be a routine three-day stretch on easy street
When I found out it was Sarah Beckett, I turned into a rope with immovable kinks. Each attempt at crafting another sentence has become a ragged stitch in a jagged scar that will heal with time, but never fade away.
I dealt with many members at the West Shore detachment reporting for the Goldstream News Gazette for eight years.
After taking a position as community liaison for the RCMP and the city of Langford, I spent three years in the community policing section, and another four working two days a week.
Despite the occasional philosophical butting of heads to be expected when Mounties find an old hippie toiling in their midst, it was a truly special, remarkable, rewarding experience. I made new friends, and the respect for what the Mounties do grew with each passing day.
Sarah was out to here pregnant with her second child and assigned to light duties the last time I worked with her. We found ourselves sequestered together in the old part of the building, our desks barely an inch apart. She was handling media duties, which gave us a first base for exchanging quips and banter.
Sarah was highly intelligent, highly opinionated, dedicated and hardworking. The steady stream of people venturing down to say hello and ask how she was doing every day is a testament to how much she was treasured and admired.
Sarah had a smile that imprinted a sunny tattoo wherever she aimed it, and a sense of humour you were eager to share.
I met her son on one of her last days before maternity leave, a shy four year old who beamed a Sarah-like smile when I asked him if he was excited about becoming a big brother.
My wife and I ran into Sarah and her mother pushing the new arrival along Whiffin Spit a few months later. We chatted for a moment and Joan mentioned how nice she was as we went our separate ways that sunny day a couple of years ago.
Our paths crossed again three weeks ago while I was filling in at the Gazette. She was back at work, politely, patiently, persistently moving a panhandler along. We waved, exchanged a quick how ya doin’ and shared another one of her magical smiles.
This week, I find myself chasing down details of her tragic demise on deadline day, talking to her red-eyed co-workers and colleagues burdened by broken hearts.
The next morning finds me taking photos of the procession escorting her body from the hospital to the airport.
These past three days have been a painful push that turned my innards into a snake choking on its own poison. But it is merely a scratch compared to the gaping wound ripped into the lives of her family, loved ones, friends and fellow officers.
Once again I struggle for words, so saddened there’s so little I can do or say.
Rick Stiebel is a Sooke resident and semi-retired journalist.