IM this article to a friend!

July 5, 2006

Deaf man helps police nab suspected drunken driver

From: Greeley Tribune - Greeley,CO,USA - Jul 5, 2006

Kim Spencer, (Bio)
July 5, 2006

Fancy would likely wag her tail in approval.

A man who lost his beloved hearing dog, Fancy, more than four years ago after a drunken driver crashed into his minivan helped police apprehend a man he thinks was also a drunken driver on the same highway Monday.

Eric Fifer, who is deaf, left a friend's cabin around 5 p.m. in the Poudre Canyon and headed down Colo. 14 toward Fort Collins. On the way down, he noticed "many emergency vehicles with flashing lights on parking beside the road." He said he wondered what had happened. He also noticed divers and officers along the river, apparently searching for something.

Shortly after that he came across a man attempting to flag him down.

He stopped because he assumed the man was part of the search-and-rescue team, he said.

"He wore a yellow shirt. I had seen some divers and people wearing yellow vests. I thought he was too tired to walk back to his vehicle," Fifer said.

He said he thought it strange that the man was barefoot. And he began to get a funny feeling about the man once the man got in Fifer's truck. The man smelled like river water, he said.

Fifer said he had a hard time reading the man's lips while driving and that the man was mumbling.

So Fifer improvised: "I played 'dumb' by touching his pants to get his attention because I wanted to see if his clothes were wet or not," Then, Fifer saw that a pickup had crashed into the river.

When the man asked Fifer not to stop where all the emergency vehicles were located, Fifer became even more suspicious, he said.

He acted instinctively.

"I stopped in the middle of the road and got out of my truck quickly and said to the officer, "I am deaf. I don't know him. I think you are looking for him."

The officer then arrested the man, Fifer said.

He said he thinks it's ironic he found the missing man everyone was searching for.

"Everyone was searching for him for a long time until the deaf driver driving through in less then five minutes found him. I think he messed around with the wrong person who experienced a drunken driving crash," Fifer said.

He still suffers from neck and back pain from the accident that claimed Fancy's life.

And he has a permanent reminder of the crash.

"I still have a little scar on my hand that Fancy bit a few minutes before she died. She left me a scar that I will always feel close to her," he said.

He said he took flowers to Fancy's grave on June 14, the fourth anniversary of her death and isn't ready yet to get another dog.

Fifer's been deaf since he was 3, and he learned sign language. He teaches American Sign Language at Front Range Community College.

But Fancy would let him know when people were talking, a phone was ringing or someone was at the door.

The man who crashed into Fifer, Richard Kent Christian, 52, of Fort Collins, was sentenced to two years in prison in 2003.

As for his actions Monday, Fifer said he's happy he could help.

"I am just glad that I got the drunken driver off the road. He reminded me of the accident that took the life of Fancy, (my) hearing dog and best friend," he said.

Tribune reporter Joanna Larez contributed to this report.

© 2006