Oregon State Police Sgt. Greg Plummer was inspired to become a police officer after the drowning death of his 9-year-old son. At the time, Trooper Tom Dyer helped Plummer and his family through the devastating loss, and in the process changed Plummer’s life.
PACIFIC CITY – Sgt. Greg Plummer is driving south on Brooten Road when a compact car speeds past, going 43 mph in a 25 mph zone. He takes in the car’s radar reading and license plate, and makes a U-turn.
The car speeds up to 52 before turning into the parking lot of the Oar House. As Plummer pulls in behind her, the driver jumps out of the car and runs toward the bar, streaking across the headlights of the OSP cruiser in flip-flops and jeans.
Plummer jumps out and runs toward the driver, commanding her to “Stop! Stop right there! Get back in your vehicle!”
She keeps moving toward the bar. He puts a hand on her arm. “Get back in your car,” he tells her.
“It’s not my car,” she argues, twisting out of his grasp. “I wasn’t driving that car.”
“I saw you get out of it. Now walk back to your car on your own or do it in cuffs,” he says.
She visibly deflates, shoulders slumped as she shuffles toward the car. But near the vehicle she gets a second wind and starts arguing again. She refuses to get in the driver’s seat. Instead, she drops to the ground and sits in the gravel, her back against the car’s side panel.
Plummer administers a field sobriety test, which she fails. She has trouble following directions and keeping her balance. Her attitude surges through the clinical stages of grief, beginning with denial: “I didn’t do it! It’s not my car! I wasn’t driving!”
Next comes a wave of anger, sitting in the gravel swearing loudly about her bad luck/timing/judgment.
Then she shifts to bargaining, trying to impress Plummer with her honesty and cooperation.
“I just had three drinks... I admit I was driving the car... I admit I was trying to get into the bar before you caught me. Look, I’m telling the truth here, I’m cooperating.
“My son is home alone, I just went home to check on him. I’m on bench probation, I used to have a problem with drugs. If I get arrested I’ll have to go to jail for 16 months... I’m a felon.”
Plummer absorbs the emotional barrage professionally as he walks her through the field sobriety test. Then, he arrests her.
By the time she is loaded into the back of the police car and read her rights, she’s crying. “Don’t do this, please!” she pleads. The police car fills with alcohol fumes from her breath. “It’s already done,” he tells her, not unkindly.
Plummer has focused his career with the Oregon State Police on DUII enforcement.
“(It) is a place where I feel I can make a real difference. Every impaired driver we get off the road is an accident averted,” he said.
He is multiply certified to assess drivers under the influence of alcohol and a host of other drugs including illegal and prescription drugs. He trains troopers in DUII apprehension and is the statewide OSP DUII programs coordinator.
Plummer has been on the job for the past 13 years; he spent 11 years in Lincoln County as a state trooper, and has worked in Tillamook County for the last two years, since he was promoted to Sergeant. He splits his time between patrolling the county's roads and supervising the OSP troopers who work out of the Tillamook office.
Plummer came to police work by way of personal tragedy. On July 21, 1997, during a father/son outing, Plummer’s 9-year-old son, Gregory, drowned in Cullaby Lake, in Warrenton. Senior Trooper Tom Dyer, a high school friend of Plummer, was first on the scene and helped Plummer through the terrible ordeal.
Dyer arranged for Plummer's wife to be picked up so the parents could be together; he drove to Portland and picked up the Plummers' daughter from summer camp, so the family could be together. He provided strength and support when the Plummers needed it the most, and in the process, he made a tremendous impression on Plummer.
“While just he and I were at the scene, I remember him telling me that everything was going to be OK and we would get through this. Although I didn’t necessarily believe it at the time, somehow, he made me feel a little better. Later, he checked on us to make sure we were OK many times after things had calmed down.”
Plummer had a successful career in the food services industry. In 1997 he was a sales associate for Food Services of America.
“When I had a chance to sit down and think things through a few months later, I realized that working in the food service industry was not for me...The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of doing something more meaningful with my life. I wanted to do something that would make a difference in people’s lives, like Dyer made a difference in ours. I wanted to help people. It seemed like the most significant thing I could do in the face of our loss. A career with the Oregon State Police seemed like it would be a good fit for the new goals I was setting for myself.”
Plummer applied with OSP in the spring of 1998. He trained hard for the physical and general knowledge exams and passed them later that summer.
“Having a strenuous goal helped me get through that time, gave me something to focus on and work toward,” he said. “My wife supported me every step of the way. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
Plummer was offered a job as patrol trooper in Newport in August 1999.
Before Plummer was promoted to sergeant and added administrative and supervisory duties to his workload, he averaged 50 DUII arrests per year, or about one a week. Asked about some of the most outrageous things he’s seen in his law enforcement career, Plummer cites two local DUII arrests.
“Once I was parked in Pacific City, in an obvious spot. I watched a man walk out of a bar, visibly intoxicated, and stagger down the road to the motel. I was thinking it was a good thing that he was walking. Then, in the parking lot of the motel, he got in his car. He started it up and backed out onto the road, and then he backed down the street, driving backwards, towards the bar he’d just come from. It is the only time I’ve ever made a traffic stop nose to nose with another vehicle. The driver explained that he was not nearly as drunk as his girlfriend, still in the bar, who was so drunk she couldn’t even walk to the motel. So he thought he would just back up to the bar to get her, and then drive (forward) back to their room.”
Another memorable DUII arrest took place in Hemlock, about four miles north of Beaver. “I stopped a car at the church in Hemlock. Someone had called in to report an erratic driver. I will always try to go after those calls. The driver pulled into the church parking lot, and immediately got out of the car, visibly intoxicated. She was making her way around the back of the car to the other side of the vehicle, and she was disheveled, one of her breasts was exposed. I was trying to figure out what was going on, when I realized she was going to open to back door on the passenger side.
“You can’t let a driver reach into the back seat,” Plummer explained. “They might be going for a gun. So I told her to step back, step away from the car. I looked in the back seat, and there was an unsecured infant in the back seat, not strapped into a car seat.
“I realized that the mother had been driving drunk while nursing her infant. When I pulled her over, she set the baby in the back. She was going around the car to try to secure the baby in the car seat.”
OSP troopers patrol alone, and back-up in Tillamook County can be 40 minutes away. Every time a trooper makes a traffic stop could be a dangerous encounter. They learn to live with the danger and try to keep themselves safe by staying alert and defensive.
Asked when he has been most scared as a police officer, Plummer described a domestic dispute he responded to.
“A man came out of the residence and he was advancing on me with a knife. I pulled my weapon and I was commanding him to stop. He kept coming toward me, and I was afraid I was going to have to shoot him. I didn’t know if it was suicide by cop, (when a suspect does something to cause police to shoot him), or if he really meant to attack me. I let him get closer than I wanted to. The people in the house were screaming at him, and finally, he stopped.”
The most difficult thing about Plummer’s work is the aftermath of fatalities, when he has to notify families that their loved ones were killed.
“It’s really hard. You do what you can to be there for them, but there’s no getting away from being the person who delivers the worst possible news.”
Plummer is fulfilled in his second career; he has found meaningful, interesting work and he feels confident that he’s making a difference. “I really like how every single day is different. I never know what’s going to happen when I get here. There hasn’t been a day in the last 13 years that I didn’t wake up and look forward to going to work.”