A country life forever changed

Dan Rodricks

February 05, 1992|By Dan Rodricks

Nothing like this ever happened on Harris Mill Road. Not that anyone can recall, not that anyone can imagine. So you might wonder how Bob Miller felt when his sister-in-law drove up the lane last Tuesday night to tell him about the police officer in the road. His road. Bob's road. Harris Mill Road.

It's way out there, a narrow two-lane that stretches through the northern Maryland countryside, five miles from Parkton on the way to Pennsylvania. Way out. With heavily wooded ravines on both sides, and a stream nearby. Bob Miller and his wife, Joan, have lived there 25 years. They own a bit more than 20 acres, most of it rich with trees.

"I love the country," Bob Miller was saying. "I like to be able to take long walks and not bother anyone, not intrude on anyone. I can walk for a time and still be on my property, or maybe I'll cross onto my neighbor's property, and I don't have to bother anyone."

Joan Miller's father bought the place years ago -- 200 acres for $8,000 -- and, with the idea of becoming a farmer, he moved his family from New York. Joan Miller grew up on the place. And it's where she and Bob, both of them school teachers, made a family, made a life.

Nothing ever happened but the passing of the seasons. They planted gardens. They fed the wild birds. They hiked paths and trails. That's what life in the country is. That's why people choose to live there. What some call isolation, others call solitude. What some call the eerie silence of the woods, others call it splendid peace.

Way out there, last Tuesday night, someone tried to kill a police officer.

It was about 8:30 when Bob Miller's sister-in-law, Peggy Shemonski, stopped her car on Harris Mill Road near a white-and-blue Baltimore County police car. The car was parked in the road and its lights were on. The driver's side door was open. Peggy Shemonski saw a pair of legs and a pair of arms sticking out the door.

They were the legs and arms of Officer Darryl Chesney who, it turns out, had been beaten nearly unconscious after stopping two men in a stolen car. The men took the officer's pistol and disappeared into the darkness, probably into Pennsylvania, and probably just moments before Peggy Shemonski came upon the scene. She lives nearby and had been driving her two boys home from scouts.

When Peggy spotted the police car and the officer inside, she drove to Bob Miller's house and ran to him in a panic.

"It's about 500 feet from my house down to the road," Bob Miller said. "We drove down the lane and I could see the lights blinking. Peggy wouldn't get out of the car. I got out and walked toward it."

It was very cold, a night full of stars.

"As I walked toward him," Bob Miller said, "I could see the officer was on his back on the road, right by his car, almost under the door. I could see blood on his right side on his white shirt. I didn't touch him. I said, 'I think he's been shot,' and Peggy drove back to my house to call 911."

As he stood there, Bob Miller thought, for a moment, about how very desolate and dark that stretch of Harris Mill really is, and how frightening it must have been for a young cop to stop a suspicious car there.

"I tried to talk to him," Bob Miller said. "He didn't answer. He was quivering. I didn't know what to do. I said things like, 'Hold on. They're coming.' It was very quiet. I can't remember if I heard anything come over his radio at all. It was very quiet there. His flashlight was on the road in front of his car, and the light was still on. . . .

"I guess I was there six to 10 minutes before the police came. . . . I remember wondering whether the people who did this could still be around, or would come back. I stood and waited. . . . I was anxious for [Officer Chesley's] sake. I thought he was dying."

The officer, of course, did not die. But the incident is bound to leave scars, physical and emotional. And way out there on Harris Mill, Bob Miller and his wife have been thinking about the officer and how he fell, beaten and bloody, on their peaceful stretch of road. Nothing like this ever happened.

"I hadn't thought about it much until you called," he said yesterday. "But I'll tell you, I don't own a handgun -- I have rifles locked away -- and it makes me think about buying one. It does. My wife likes to do a lot of walking, and knowing that people like that could pass through here . . . I'll tell you, it takes away a piece of your freedom."

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