Pro Bono Work Can Be Rewarding
by Ryan Johnston
Although if you do it for every case, you might starve. The reality is that everybody in our business has been approached by a friend, acquaintance, relative – whoever, and asked, “Hey, Mr. P.I., I used to have this friend, Joe Schmuck. Well, I lent him some money a couple of years ago and never heard from him. I don’t have any money, but could you help me find him?” Or the friend who says, ” You know, I used to date this girl about 10 years ago named Gloria Hotbod, and I lost track of her. I don’t have any money, but could you help me get back in touch with her?” If you haven’t heard something similar to this yet, congratulations on recently starting your career as a PI. (But be prepared for similar requests.)
Well being a fairly generous person (though my friends might tell you differently), I usually help out when I am sure there is no sinister underlying motive.
August 1998 – My brother, who works as a bartender, tells me about an incident that occurred outside his nightclub after closing. One of his doormen, Larry, was directing traffic out of the parking lot and onto a major city street. Well, I had never met Larry, but still listened to what had happened, that obviously affected my brother. He went on to say that it was after 1 a.m., and Larry was standing on the major street, holding traffic to allow the patrons to exit the parking lot. Now, Larry is a very noticeable man, standing 6’7″ and weighing 300 pounds. He was under a streetlight and using a flashlight to direct traffic. Any normal driver could see Larry from quite a distance. However, only if you are sober.
Along comes Andy the alcoholic. As my brother relayed the story to me, Andy the alcoholic was driving an economy-size pickup northbound on the same street, struck Larry with the front center of his vehicle, carried Larry’s lifeless body about a block until he realized that something was not right. He stopped his vehicle and got out to see Larry’s body fall to the ground. At that moment, the other doormen, who were chasing the vehicle on foot, arrived to give Andy the alcoholic some of the punishment that he deserved. While hearing this story and thinking how tragic it was, I had no personal connection, as I never knew Larry.
Some weeks later, I recieved a call from Mary who is Larry’s mother. While she believed that the vehicular manslaughter charge pending against Andy the alcoholic was air tight, she wanted to be sure to cover every detail as well as prepare for a civil suit against Andy the alcoholic. I was specifically told by Mary as well as my brother, that no special favors or pricing were wanted or requested. Well I did not know Mary until I met with her later that week. Therefore, I was going to charge her, but being an old softy to friends of the family, she would get a reduced rate.
I met with Mary at her one-room apartment, which was acorss the street from the fire station where I had volunteered for the last 12 years. My first thought was that I really wondered if a person living in a place this small could really afford and investigation of this type. I immediately knew that not only would she get the reduced rate, but also some of my hours might not find their way to the final invoice.
Mary and I sat down and got acquainted. She told me how annoying the volunteer firemen are who start blasting the siren as soon as they leave the station. Then I had to break it to her, I was one of those annoying volunteers. Personally, we hit it off right away. Then we had to discuss the details of the case. That’s when it hits you that you are talking to a mother, who in a matter of a few seconds, lost a child whom she loved very much. She tried to give the details and facts, but you could see in her eyes and by her silent pauses, how much it hurt.
I gathered all of the information and for the next several months, set out to see that Andy the alcoholic spent substantial time behind bars. I interviewed witnesses, tracked down court records, looked at the evidence that the police had, including photos of Larry’s large, bloodied body and the vehicle which was being held as evidence. The very vehicle where Larry took his last breath as was evident by the two large indentations that his body had left on the front grill, due to Andy the alcoholic once again driving under the influence. This was not Andy the alcoholic’s first DUI, but his fourth. In fact, Andy the alcoholic had been served papers the previous day for being a habitual traffic offender. As unreal as this may sound, that very document was sitting on the front seat of the vehicle, next to Andy the alcoholic as he killed Larry.
I kept Mary apprised of the investigation as we talked numerous times over the months to follow. We had a business relationship as well as becoming friends. I also talked several times to the district attorney who was prosecuting the case. I felt like I obtained a fair amount of valuable information that I passed along to my client, and at my client’s request to the district attorney. However, you only hope you did enough and can not be sure until the judge bangs the gavel.
Mary was ready to get the trial end of this ordeal over with, so that she could put that part of the emotional roller coaster behind her.
Andy the alcoholic could see the writing on the wall and eventually pleaded guilty, without going to trial. The day of the sentencing would be the end of this chapter in this sad story. Mary presented the evidence that I had found to the judge. The district attorney presented evidence that the police had found and then the judge banged his gavel and uttered the words, “16 years.” While I don’t personally think that 16 years is long enough, you have to take into consideration that Andy the alcoholic is 45 years old. You do the math.
Mary was satisfied with the sentence and has decided not to pursue a civil suit as she did not want to drum up the extreme emotions to try to obtain Andy the Alcoholic’s assets (which is nearly nothing). I would imagine that this is the normal sequence of emotions any parent would have. First thinking, “I will own everything he has for what he did to my child,” and then feeling that you have to move on.
In the course of the investigation, I have found Mary to be a wonderful person and certainly a lifelong friend to my family and myself. However, after everything she went through, I couldn’t bring myself to send her a bill. She would periodically call me and ask where the bill was. I eventually told her that this investigation was a Christmas present, in light of all she had been through.
As for myself, I continue to work 12-18 hour days, 6-7 days a week, just as most of you reading this article. My doctor has said that I get frequent headaches due to poor diet, too much work, and lack of exercise. Note to self, “Buy a mountain bike and go for a ride once in a while.” That note to self had been hanging in my office for months.
While I occasionally talk to Mary, I hadn’t seen her for a couple of months. She showed up at my doorstep the other day with a brand new mountain bike. She said, “I knew you wouldn’t take money, so this way you can’t say no.” She and my mother had been talking and went in together on a brand new mountain bike.
See, Pro Bono work is rewarding. In Mary, I have a friend for life!!
Thank you Mother.
Thank you Mary.
(The names in this article were changed.)
Ryan Johnston is President of Night Moves of Denver, Private Investigations, P.O. Box 1135, Wheatridge, Colorado 80034-1135, phone 888-456-I SPY(4779) : email: COLORADO PI @ AOL.COM