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Doing what's right, worth a fight

Outside the boxing ring, it's not often you see two men beating the pulp out of each other. But that's what I saw on my way home from work last Monday afternoon.

I was beyond tired. We had moved into a new house during the weekend, and I had only slept about three hours the night before.

I wasn't very alert after the end of the workday and my approach to the stop sign at Whitetail Boulevard and Hwy. 35N. At first I barely noticed two men on foot to the side of the highway.

As I waited for the car ahead of me to enter traffic, I realized the men were punching each other. They were probably friends just fooling around, or so I thought.

Then my fuzzy brain registered thudding sounds as the men landed punches.

I thought, "Wow, those friends are hitting each other hard."

Usually punches only make noise in the movies. My mind struggled to process everything in those few seconds.

Even in my stupor I knew I should get going through the intersection, but I hesitated. One of the men had picked up a rock bigger than my head from a nearby drainage ditch.

Rock-wielding man looked like a baseball pitcher poised to hurl a mean one. I couldn't understand his words, but his stature said, "Stay away from me or I will hurt you with this."

I considered calling the police. If that rock made contact with the other guy's skull, it would do serious damage.

I hesitated at that stop sign in the name of selfishness, too. If rock-wielding man chunked the big stone, I could be driving right into its path. Yikes!

The now dance-like skirmish turned another way, so I hurried through the intersection but took the next turn so I could loop around and be sure of what I thought I'd seen.

From the safety of a parking lot about a football field away, I saw that they weren't punching anymore, but one of them still had the big rock.

Should I call for help? I reasoned that they weren't going to hurt each other and that another driver had probably seen them and called police anyway.

Besides being tired, I was now startled and really wanting to get home.

I told myself I'd call police from ShopKo's parking lot, where I'd been heading in the first place.

I noticed blood on one of the men's shirts as I passed by again and knew for sure they had really been hurting each other. Then I saw a police car - lights flashing - going toward them.

I thought, "Well good. The police will sort things out and take care of business."

Once I reached ShopKo, I sat in my car for a full minute as my conscience attacked me.

"You saw what happened. You should tell the cops," it said to me. "They'd probably appreciate a statement."

Another thought wave reminded me that I'm a reporter and should probably try to find out why the two men had been beating the stuffing out of each other.

I told my conscience to shut up but still found myself heading back to the scene.

But why? What could I do?

I just wanted to let the police do their job and remain uninvolved.

I passed one of the fighters who was wiping his bloodied face with his T-shirt.

The other guy was talking to the policeman. I pulled up, not knowing what to say.

"Are you OK?" I finally asked.

Both the policeman and the fighter looked at me like I was nuts.

"I saw some of what happened and wanted to see if everybody was OK," I explained.

The fighter cried out, "Did you see him pull that knife on me?"

"No, I really just saw you guys hitting each other, then one of you pick up a big rock," I replied.

"OK ma'am, could you wait just a minute?" asked the policeman - Officer Dan Burgess.

"See! See! Talk to her. She saw the whole thing," said the fighter, practically yelling.

I hadn't seen it all. I'd only seen a few seconds. I sat there waiting and sweating and brooding. I could be home by now if I had just ignored my urge to be a responsible citizen.

I didn't know who started the fight or what it was about.

I hadn't heard one word of what they said.

And I hadn't seen a knife, either.

I explained my position, hoping that Officer Burgess would let me off the hook since I hadn't seen everything.

Nope. He wanted a written statement and patiently explained what I should do with the form.

I completed it, turned it in and reflected on my reluctance to get involved.

Had I just been tired and whiny or was I really an apathetic person?

I decided it was probably some of both.

Officer Burgess later called to ask a few additional questions. I couldn't tell him anything definite other than the two men had been punching each other hard and one had picked up a big rock, obviously to threaten the other. Still, Officer Burgess thanked me for coming back and being willing to make a statement.

Wow. I couldn't remember the last time I'd done something to warrant a thank you from police. I thought back to when I lived in a small town as a troublemaking teenager. They occasionally thanked me for staying off the streets. But that was a different kind of gratitude.

I still can't be sure exactly what compelled me to come back and insert myself. Maybe I realized apathy doesn't solve anything.

Maybe my conscience knows that police have a hard enough job as it is.

Maybe one of those men really needed a witness.

Maybe I was just a nosy reporter.

It could be that even when you're dead tired or have another viable excuse, you still have to do what you know you should.

I had even whined to myself all the way home that day about one more thing to do on top of finding the iron and silverware among all the moving boxes. But when I stopped to think about the two bloody men and Officer Burgess left to sort out their stories, I was glad I'd come back to the scene.

Ultimately the two men were fighting about a woman. One of them got a ticket and no other witnesses came forward.

I don't know any other details yet. What I do know is that it's a struggle sometimes to do the right thing, but the world is so much better when everybody does it.

I also know that once I turned in my statement at the police station the next day, my conscience finally shut up.