Stranded and scared, a cold wind blustering outside, Laura Jane Stallings sat behind the wheel of the official car of her generation – an old Buick – just before noon Wednesday.
The car sat immobile along Constitution Boulevard in Rock Hill because the passenger-side front tire had blown out on the way back from the doctor, where she spent the last $50 she had.
Stallings, 77, sat there in the driver’s seat, her graying auburn hair just visible above the steering wheel. She was a mile from home, broke and now without wheels – so home might as well have been a foreign country.
She was alone and she was scared and she didn’t have a nickel and there was not a chance in the world that this little old lady could jack up this car and change a tire.
A miracle did not happen. Angels did not appear.
Something better showed up – the cops.
A 16-year officer named Sgt. Lee McKellar pulled in at almost the same time as Officer Chris Price, a cop for 10 years, the last five in Rock Hill. There was no crime. No blood and no wailing family. There was no report to be taken, no complaint.
What they had was a 77-year-old lady with a flat tire. They could have called over the radio for a wrecker to be dispatched. They could have passed by.
Price and McKellar did not pass by. Each did not ask somebody else to help. The officers spread a raincoat on the ground and kneeled in the gravel and changed the tire themselves.
McKellar, graying at the temples – who has chased killers and emus on this job in Rock Hill and caught both – smiled at this lady and said, “Ma’am, do not worry. We will take care of you.”
Laura Jane Stallings, who worked in a factory all of her adult life until she became disabled and could no longer work, was amazed that these two strangers were changing her tire, outside in the cold.
“I’m sittin’ here broke and I have had nothing but bad luck,” Stallings said. “I spent my money at the doctor for pain medication. They just started helping me.
“They are so sweet and nice.”
Price, the younger of the two cops, said it was his pleasure to help Stallings.
“Happy to do it,” Price said.
McKellar put it simply.
“This job is not all about locking people up, putting them in jail,” the patrol sergeant said. “It is about solving problems, helping people when they need it.”
Price grabbed the shredded tire and put it in the trunk. Both guys tested the lug nuts on the newly mounted spare tire to make sure it was snug.
McKellar made sure Stallings had her keys, while Price kicked the spare tire on the car, because all guys who change tires have to kick the tire to see if it is ready, whether the guy is a cop or not. It is a law of nature.
Stallings came out of that car and she thanked these two men and she put her arms around them and she hugged them.
“My Christmas came early,” she said.
The officers told Stallings to be careful getting home. To drive slow on the spare. She promised that she would.
They called dispatchers to report that they were back in service, available to handle all those calls about beatings and violence and dope dealing that often end with people screaming at them or spitting at them and sometimes kicking or punching them.
McKellar looked at Stallings in that car and said, “This is what service is all about.”
“It sure is,” Price agreed.
Slowly, gingerly, Laura Jane Stallings pulled back into traffic to go home. She was safe. The police officers watched her, and each waved.
Stallings waved back. Her smile filled the windshield.