Routine call leads to heroism, hassle for local tow truck driver

Chuck Wickenhofer
Cliff Reeves, who last weekend recovered a car with a toddler inside, discovered eight hours later, usually responds to more standard calls. Here, Reeves assists Search and Rescue to pull a partially submerged truck from Devils Lake.

As a former tribal police officer and current tow truck driver, Cliff Reeves has seen a lot during his time working in the region.

Though much of his work involves broken down and icebound vehicles, one of the situations Reeves recently found himself in involved a young girl who was left in a car for eight hours overnight in near-freezing conditions.

Reeves reported that the call was fairly routine at first.

“I got a call from the (Fort Totten) police department to tow a car,” Reeves said.

It wasn’t until approximately 10 a.m. the next morning that Reeves’ son, Chazz, noticed the toddler in the back  seat of the car after it was unhitched from the tow truck.

“My son saw a hand on the seat, and she was laying on the floor. The seat was reclined,” Reeves said. “Initially my son got her out, and I had my son take a picture because of the crazy situations I find when I tow cars.”

According to Reeves, the situation spun out of control after he posted the picture to Facebook.

“My friends aren’t going to believe this,” Reeves said. “I’m not familiar with Facebook that good, but I have been on it in the past pulling cars out of the ice. I said, ‘Well, I’ll show my friends this,’ not knowing how it escalated into a frenzy of craziness.

“I don’t know how Facebook works, I didn’t know it was (set) on public or something,” Reeves continued. “Then later that day WDAZ called and they asked if they could use the picture that I posted.”

Reeves reported that he noticed both positive feedback on the incident, directed toward him and his son, and negative feedback at the expense of the Fort Totten Police Department, due to the perception that the department mishandled their response to the call.

“(The feedback) was all positive, then there was finger pointing towards the police department,” Reeves said. “I didn’t respond to the Facebook things, and I made a point that I got in the car twice, and I did not see the child. I’m not blaming (them) and it’s not their fault.”

From Reeves’ point of view, the report that was aired escalated the situation, as it brought attention to the Fort Totten police that he believed was unfair.

“I’m not happy about the report they put on TV,” Reeves said. “There was a little inaccuracy and off-the-record reporting.”

Though Reeves insisted that he didn’t wish to badmouth the station that aired the report, he related that he was interviewed by a Fort Totten detective following the broadcast.

“The detective interviewed me, said that they got a call from Washington and a lot of heat coming down because of the media coverage,” Reeves said. “I said, ‘This wasn’t my intention to have any bad publicity for you guys.’ I work with them, and they do their job professionally and as accurate as they can.”

To clarify the incident, Reeves went into detail about the call as he saw it unfold.

“(The officer) initially did a quick search, got in the car and turned the flashers on,” Reeves said. “It was on a residential street, and when they bring somebody in they gotta hurry up and get to the next call. Unfortunately, three things (were) happening at once.

“They also at the same time had another call with a toddler on the highway, then there was a car on fire, and there’s only one officer working,” Reeves continued. “His hands were full, and unfortunately things just escalated. They did take somebody to jail that was in the car. He had to get them to jail because he had (the) call about a kid on the highway.”

Reeves has a particular understanding of the challenges facing the Fort Totten police, having served as a tribal officer himself.

“I was a tribal officer twelve years ago out there, and I worked by myself. You do get hectic calls all coming in at one time,” Reeves said. “They’re understaffed out there; it was disappointing to read some of the feedback, people blaming the department or the officer. That’s what got me upset.”

Though many factors led to the blowback following the toddler’s rescue, Reeves mostly blames himself for the way that the story unfolded.

“If I would have just left it as a picture to a friend or two, nothing would have been escalated. The main thing is (the girl) is okay,” Reeves said. “For the Lake Region community and Spirit Lake, I hear both sides. I come across some weird situations, and it’s something I should have thought twice about posting.

“Think before you post,” Reeves continued. “I have no intentions of discrediting the family or the Spirit Lake people. It was a bad situation, then it turned good, and now it’s back to bad. I feel like that was my fault.”