The lights on the police vehicle turned blue, and the car pulled over.
Christmas Eve in the city of York, a small place of about 6,000 people on a cold and rainy day – so why are police officers giving out tickets for stuff as simple as not using headlights when windshield wipers are on?
The burly officer unfolded himself from the cab of the police sport utility vehicle. It took a few seconds. Lt. Dale Edwards, with forearms the size of Christmas hams peeking out from his short sleeved shirt – is careful in a world where two New York officers were shot Saturday for no reason other than wearing a police uniform.
Edwards warily approached the driver. He wore a bullet-proof vest on Christmas Eve.
The lady in the passenger seat had just spent her last $100 on a co-pay for chemotherapy treatments. She was dead broke. And now the police officers.
Edwards went back to the patrol SUV with the driver’s license and registration and insurance card. He was crying, and the tears rolled down his face. He wrote a warning ticket. On the bottom, as his hand shook, he wrote, “Merry Christmas from the York. P.D.”
He took a paper clip and attached a $100 bill to the warning. He walked back to the car and handed it over to the passenger. And now it was a race to see whose tears fell faster, the police officer or the lady who would now have a Christmas with a few bucks in her purse and food on the table.
“I was overwhelmed by this generosity,” said Aubrey Della Wilson, 53, of York. “I have to pay $100 every time I get chemo. I truly appreciate this, and appreciate the police who helped me on Christmas Eve.”
Edwards left. The sleigh – a Ford Explorer. His suit blue, not red. A badge better than reindeer, and brighter and shinier than any North Star.
“(A) lady who wants to remain anonymous gave the department a thousand dollars, 10 $100 bills, and asked us to give them out to let people know that the community supports the police, that the police support the community, and we all are in this life together,” said Edwards.
The next driver who was pulled over by Edwards, Jeff Ligon, is respectful and said he’s been helped by police officers all his life. He thought his lights came on automatically with the wipers.
Edwards chuckles and said, “I’ll be right back.”
He again attached a crisp $100 bill to the warning ticket with a paper clip.
Ligon was stunned. His smile filled the open window. He almost started crying and said he would share the money with his family. Ligon’s lip trembled as he said, “Merry Christmas,” to Edwards.
Edwards pulled back onto the road, drove to the other side of York and pulled over another car that had no lights on in the cold mist of Christmas Eve. The driver was Donald Hyde, 66. Hyde received no ticket. He received $100.
“Surprise, surprise, surprise,” Hyde said. “As Gomer (Pyle) would say, ‘Golleee!’ ”
Hyde said the last time he got pulled over it was for not wearing a seat belt.
“Didn’t enjoy that one very much,” he conceded. “Cost me ($)25.”
Hyde asked if the money was a joke, if he would be on TV. Edwards said no ruse. No joke. The money is for Hyde to use for Christmas, for his family or to help somebody else.
Hyde said he has concerns for the safety of police.
“I’m worried about them. I really am,” Hyde said.
Hyde left with a smile, and Edwards also left with a smile. But Edwards was not done.
Edwards then pulled into the Dollar General parking lot. A woman with a newborn and two other children had not $10 for presents. The family lives in subsidized housing. Edwards knows her as he knows so many in his little city; he handed over $100.
The woman cried and almost fell to her knees.
Edwards did this 10 times on Christmas Eve, giving away a total of $1,000.
“Because (at) Christmas, you give,” said Edwards, a police officer for 25 years.
Edwards is the leader at the department in collecting donations of food, gifts and toys for needy families. The department wants to get out into the city’s neighborhoods, where homes have peeling paint and broken windows, to show that the police are there to protect and serve.
“We believe here in showing people that our main duty is to protect them, be there when they need us,” said York police Chief Andy Robinson.
Robinson worked Christmas Eve, too, as did captains, lieutenants, officers and many others not even on shift. Christmas Eve at the York Police Department is a day to serve.
Lt. Rich Caddell worked Christmas Eve as well. His wife’s father, Rock Hill police Officer Steven Jordan, was killed in the line of duty on New Year’s Eve in 1975. A year later at Christmas in 1976, tiny Shannon Jordan, the officer’s daughter, went to see Santa Claus; she asked for one wish.
“Bring me back my dad,” little Shannon Jordan said to Santa Claus.
“Police officers – we are here to serve and protect people, help them,” Caddell said Wednesday.
Edwards still drove more on Christmas Eve. He headed to Tender Hearts, a ministry that helps the poor by delivering food to families. Between the department and Tender Hearts, the groups helped 350 families this holiday season with gifts and food.
Edwards stopped at a home and dropped off food to the lady inside. Iantha Neville is 83 years old, and she hugged Edwards.
“He does this for so many people – for others,” Neville said of Edwards.
Edwards stopped back at the police department. He came out pushing a new bicycle and a little red wagon filled with wrapped gifts.
Melanie Thomas, a community volunteer, has worked with Edwards for years collecting donations for gifts, toys, clothes and food for Christmas.
“We all just want to help others,” Thomas said. “And this department, especially Dale Edwards, they give everything they have.”
Edwards then drove to a street that has experienced much crime over the years. Edwards parked and strode up to a front door over a sagging porch.
“Know the family. Kids in here need Christmas,” is all Edwards said.
He disappeared into the house and came out a minute later carrying a 3-year-old barefoot child named Hunter Wallace. Another child, 14-year-old Robert Howell, came out with Edwards.
Edwards and Thomas, the volunteer, carried toys. Edwards also carried the little boy and pulled in the wagon filled with toys, food and gifts. Robert carried the bike.
The children, six of them between ages 3 and 14, all had gifts with their names on them. None of the children were named Virginia, but they learned this Santa has a day job as a police lieutenant, and his name is Dale Edwards.
The bike, the wagon and so much stuff filled every available space in the tiny house. The children were amazed. They cried a little, but smiled a lot more. Their mother and grandmother kept saying “thank you” in a neighborhood where so many times a police car stopped with the blue lights on means somebody is leaving for jail.
Robert was asked what he thought of the police – of Edwards.
“Awesome,” the teen said.
Edwards smiled and hugged the children, then told them he had to leave. There were more gifts to deliver.
Lt. Dale Edwards, a husband and father with a family at home, is working Thursday as well.
He volunteered for the Christmas shift, too.