Kenneth Ford shifted his weight in the chair and stared at the ceiling of the sergeants' room at 3rd District headquarters. He wanted to get the phrasing just right.
"There aren't many times you have complete control of two human lives," he finally said. "I looked at this woman and I thought, 'It's my ball game.'"
On July 2, Sgt. Kenneth Ford of the Metropolitan Police achieved a feat usually reserved for paperback novels. He delivered a baby with his bare hands.
Ford's task would have been difficult and scary even in broad daylight, even with a little notice, even in a quiet place. As it was, he delivered a healthy boy under the mercury vapor lights of the 1300 block of 14th Street NW, at 1:45 a.m., about five minutes after he arrived on the scene, from a mother who was lying on the front seat of her car and gripping the steering wheel so she wouldn't cry out in pain.
The bystanders were not bustling shoppers or chirping children, but the usual crowd for that seedy block and that time of day: a few junkies, a couple of curious drunks and half a dozen surprised prostitutes wearing hot pants.
"You know, it's wild," said Ford, a 35-year-old veteran of 12 years on the police force. "I had just locked up two juveniles for stealing a moped. You really do go from one aspect of this job to another."
Ford went to the baby aspect as he sat stopped for a red light. Selwyn Spears of Takoma Park, the baby's father, was stopped for the same red light heading in the other direction. He started honking when he saw Ford's marked cruiser. So Ford made a U-turn to investigate.
"Before I could even get out of the car," Ford said, "he was up to the window, telling me to hurry."
As soon as Spears explained what the situation was, Ford radioed for an ambulance. That is routine procedure. Ambulance crews are much better trained and equipped to deliver babies than policemen. In fact, according to police officials, not a second of training time for new officers is devoted to learning how to deliver babies. It's just too remote a possibility.
The trouble in this case was that Marilyn King and her son beat the ambulance.
"I looked inside the car and saw the mother," Ford recalled. "She said: 'I'm having my baby! I'm having my baby!' I told her to lie down and get comfortable, and to start breathing deeply. That's what I did when my wife had our daughter (2 1/2 years ago). But I never thought I'd have to deliver the child. I was sure the ambulance would get there.
"Then came the moment when I realized, 'Oh my God, the ambulance won't get here.'"
So Ford began coaching Marilyn King the way he coached his wife in he delivery room 2 1/2 years before. He kept reassuring her, kept reminding her to breathe deeply. All the while, Spears watched from the back seat. Finally, Kenneth Ford was holding a child.
"I cleaned his mouth out and tapped him on the back. He cried. I told her it was a boy and that she'd done a good job. After all, she was the one that did all the suffering."
To Kenneth Ford, "the bottom line is that I was just doing my job; I'm sure any officer would have done what I did."
"But you know, holding my baby just after she was born was the ultimate experience," he recalled. "I've never experienced a high like that before. The other night, that high resurfaced."
Kenneth Ford is still getting the usual harassment from his fellow officers. "Yeah, they call me Dr. Ford and Papa Ford and all that. fI'm used to it." What he wasn't prepared for was the name Marilyn King and Selwyn Spears chose for their son. It was Marsel Kenneth.
Marsel was chosen because it was an old family name. Kenneth was chosen for reasons that Marsel will never tire of hearing.
Karyn Wions of Bowie was waiting for a red light to change the other day at Riverdale Road and East-West Highway in Hyattsville when a driver pulled up behind her, blocking a side street and a man trying to emerge from it.
"The man who was blocked in got as angry as I've ever seen a driver get," Karyn reports. "Arm raised, fists clenched, the whole bit."
Only then did Karyn notice the sign painted on the side of the man's car. "Friendly Driving School," it said.