She was 17, her blonde hair dancing in the wind out the open window, music blasting. Driving a small white car, she raced by the 56-year-old man in his own white car on Wake Forest Highway. He was reliably doing 45.
The man was exhausted after a long day at the office and heading home. He hesitated. Then he turned on the flashing lights. The man was Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews.
“Well, she pulled over,” he recalls. “I walked up to her door, and she was already crying. Just tears everywhere. I’ve seen that before, of course.”
“Please don’t give me a ticket. PLEASE,” the young woman begged, not knowing the sheriff was the sheriff.
He saw that her driver’s license was brand new. More tears.
“Well, ma’am,” Andrews said to the driver. “How ‘bout this instead? Why don’t you give me your dad’s phone number so I can give him a call?”
The answer was instantaneous. “Please, PLEASE give me a ticket!”
Andrews got the phone number, gave the girl a warning only, and yes, the sheriff called the dad a little later. The two parents had a conversation about what had happened. It was productive.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day, but this kind of thing does define Sheriff Andrews, who will remain sheriff well past November because he has no competition in the general election.
Andrews is old school (except for social media and new technology, where his office is moving forward fast). On the cabinet behind his desk, he has a photo of Don Knotts, “Barney” of Mayberry fame.
Andrews also carries a gun on his right hip. It’s a serious job. And before the Durham native became the top dog when Worth Hill retired, some very serious things happened during his 35-plus years in the department.
“I am not supposed to be here,” the sheriff tells me, even before we sit down to do an interview. “At least that’s what the doctor at Duke said. I should have died. We should not be talking today.”
Andrews picks up an ornamental paperweight on his desk, which included the hood ornament of his old Crown Victoria, Car No. 137. Also on the plaque are the words “Shooting in Progress,” and the date, Jan. 29, 1992.
Andrews saved the ornament after the night he ran over a pothole while out on patrol, responding to an emergency call. One of his tires blew, and the patrol car careened into a giant tree.
“Punctured lung, collapsed lung, torn aorta, heavy internal bleeding,” Andrews says. “I was trapped in the car for an hour before they could get me out. All I remember, though, is the whirring of the blades of the Duke helicopter that was landing to take me to the hospital. That’s it.”
Andrews would be in the hospital for 10 days. He would have six surgeries. He could have said, “That’s it, I’m not going back.” Instead, he fought back.
“I didn’t want to give up,” he says. “I wanted to return to the job that I loved. I love helping people in my hometown, and I wasn’t ready to stop.”
The sheriff wasn’t ready to stop three years later, either, when another shooting was happening, this one a lot closer. Andrews and other deputies were chasing a suspect.
“Suddenly, a bullet struck the shield where the inspection sticker was,” he says. “Then another one hit the car’s roof line just above my windshield. Couple inches lower, it would had have hit me in the head.”
“Here’s the amazing part of that,” Andrews says, as if being shot at twice and narrowly avoiding death again was not amazing.
“Just a few days before, my mother-in-law had given me a blue prayer cloth. It was pinned inside the sun visor when I was shot at. Somebody was watching over me, yes sir.”
“I tell young deputies those stories now,” Andrews says, “because they need to know that what seems like a routine day can turn dramatic or even deadly at any moment. I want them to be glad when they go home safe to their families. I know I am.”
Sheriff Mike Andrews tells me these tales, and several more, while we stand in his office, an office plastered with photos, mementos, posters, cards from children, chairs nearly a hundred years old, and an antique desk that several sheriffs have sat behind.
Andrews also tells me about his parents and points to their pictures. His dad was called Bunkey, and he owned the Andrews Kountry Kitchen grill in the 2100 block of Angier Avenue for some 30 years. Eight or so tables and thousands of customers in its time.
“Bunkey could make some mighty fine pancakes,” Andrews says.
Next week, I’ll have the mostly non-nostalgic interview about today’s sheriff’s office challenges. Done after we finally sat down.
This sheriff knows just how lucky he is to be around, so if someone wants to stand and listen to stories, he’s happy to share them.
You can reach Tom Gasparoli at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-219-0042.