Bush looks back on long career, laughing

Published 9:36 am Tuesday, May 29, 2018

NEDERLAND — Nederland Police Chief Darrell Bush sat at his desk in his corner office of the Homer E. Nagel Pubic Safety Complex flanked by mementoes of his life and career.

Deer antlers sit atop shelves filled with family photos. There’s a Texas flag, several autographed footballs in display cases and tributes to law enforcement.

A sideways smile plays across his face as he spoke of his years as an officer and chief and of the practical jokes he initiated. He’s been on the other end of jokes, too.

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On Thursday, he will retire after 44 years in the public’s service.


Bush got his start as a dispatcher for Lamar University Police Department in 1972 as a 19-year-old living at home with his parents.

Back then, he was bringing home $525 a month and had opted not to buy the insurance offered to him because he was covered on his parents’ policy.

Then he got married to Sheila Saxon and realized he needed that insurance but was told no, he had to have signed up upon hire.

Darrell Bush, circa 1976
Courtesy photo

He moved to the Nederland Police Department two years later as a dispatcher and when an officer position opened up, he applied and got the job.

His first days on the job were eventful, to say the least. He was assigned to the graveyard shift from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and was to ride with another officer for training, only the training officer called in sick.

“I called Chief Billy Neal and told him,” he said. “He told me I believe you can handle it. I stayed scared all night.”

Darrell Bush, center bottom row
Courtesy photo

The second night as an officer, he and his partner were on a prowler call and Bush backed out of a driveway and into a ditch. A wrecker had to be called.

Bush moved up the career ladder, earning numerous community and law enforcement awards, a two-year appointment by Gov. Ann Richards to the Texas Crimestoppers Council and two years as chairman of the organization after an appointment by then-Gov. George W. Bush.

Chief Bush, who was appointed to chief in June 2001, looked back at the hurricanes and how they affected the area. No one in his generation had dealt with a major hurricane before so it became a learning experience for many.

“Probably the lowest point in my career was when Hurricane Rita hit (in 2005). We as first-responders were ordered to evacuate to Lumberton and that was against everything I believe in,” he said. “I made a decision then and there — I felt like I was abandoning my town — not to go against emergency management or anything but I said I’d never evacuate.”

So when Ike came around in 2008 there was the meeting and the call for mandatory evacuation to Lumberton. Bush called his employees together and said anybody who wants to go should go but he was going to stay and that he would need four or five to stay with him.

“They all stayed,” he said. “I was concerned. I made this bold statement to stay and if something bad happens, it’s on my shoulders. Fortunately, nothing happened. Then around 1 a.m., I thought, I may have screwed up and jeopardized some of my people.”

Staff and dispatchers

 Bush has a soft spot when it comes to his staff and dispatchers.

Dispatchers, he said, are the backbone of the department.

“Dispatchers have the weight of the world on their shoulders; that’s what makes the stress level high,” he said. “If they don’t get the right answers on the phone it could cost an officer his or her life or another person’s life.”

Bush manages 26 officers, 11 dispatchers and four office personnel — all of whom are important.

Former chief Neal, who now serves on Nederland City Council, said Bush has done a great job.

“I tried to train him all the way up and had him in mind that he’d be the next chief and sure enough he made it,” Neal said. “Everybody likes him. He’s a very likeable young man, well … he’s starting to get to be an old man now.”

The jokester

Any story about Bush would not be complete without talks of his history of practical jokes.

  • The jerky incident — Bush decided to teach a lesson to some of his hunting buddies including Neal who, he said, were eating his snacks at the deer lease.

Bush bought some jerky for dogs, repackaged it, then left it out for the snackers to eat.

“I was pulling on it and couldn’t get it apart,” Neal said. “I told him this is the most awful jerky; where did you get it from? He’s a prankster.”

  • The leak in the trailer — Retired lawman Steve Thrower has known Bush “since Moby Dick was a minnow” but that didn’t stop Bush from convincing Thrower that he had a leak in his deer trailer.

Bush would leave a puddle of water in the trailer, then Thrower, thinking there was a leak, would fix it. This went on for a while and Thrower finally sold the trailer, telling the new owner there was a mystery leak. Only after the trailer was sold did he learn the truth.

  • Ordering and having things delivered to Thrower’s house — The two men worked a lot of late nights together and Bush got to ordering everything he could off infomercials and having them delivered to Thrower’s house “COD,” or cash on demand meaning the bill went to Thrower.

There were all sorts of things, from Ginsu knives and pots and pans to the Pocket Fisherman and more.

Thrower had to tell the delivery guy to take the items back and that he did not order them.

Pranking the prankster

 Thrower was able to prank the prankster with a flat tire trick, so to speak.

Bush had a flat on his travel trailer while on the way to the deer lease one day so the group of hunters pulled over to have the tire repaired and have lunch.

“The guy at the tire place set it up perfectly for me,” Thrower said. “He said the nail was in a spot that may leak again.”

The tire was fixed and Thrower followed Bush to the lease, keeping an eye on the tire and every time Bush walked away from his trailer Thrower would let the air out of the tire.

“He came back, begin to fuss and got his 12 volt air compressor out,” he said with a laugh.

This hoax went on for a while, even after Bush went to town and bought Fix A Flat because Thrower kept letting the air out of the tire. This went on for about two hunting seasons, he said.

“We’d do things like set alarm clocks by deer stands,” Thrower said.

Thrower had an elaborate story of how he bent the barbs on Bush’s fishing hooks so almost every time Bush pulled in a flounder, he’d lose it at the boat.

“I let it ride for a while then told him about it,” he said. “I had gotten into his box of hooks and pinched it so where it was hard to tell. I have to admit, the (leaking) trailer joke was the best. Him letting me think I had a leak in the trailer was the best joke.”

Assistant Police Chief Gary Porter, who will take the helm with Bush’s departure, has known Bush since Porter was a high school kid hanging around the police department.

“He’s a good police officer and good as a boss and capable of pulling some lowlife practical jokes on me and a number of other people around here,” Porter said with a laugh. “I think he has served the citizens of Nederland well in all of his decisions.”

And on a side note, Porter added: “He (Bush) is not well known for his Ninja skills while duck hunting and walking out in the march.”

Football rivalry

The rivalry between the Nederland Bulldogs and Port Neches-Groves Indians began with Neal, former Port Neches Chief Charles Bennefield and former Groves City Marshal Mark Domingue. The bet was a meal but Nederland had the raw end of the deal if they lost, having to buy two meals.

Things progressed and chiefs changed.

“He was like one of my longtime friends even before he was chief and I was chief and I hate to say, I kinda looked up to him,” Port Neches Police Chief Paul Lemoine said with a laugh.

So, during football season before the big game, Bush called and said he was going to call a truce — then sent Nederland High School cheerleaders to Lemoine’s house early one morning along with a news crew.

“He made one tactical error. He left me too much time to retaliate,” Lemoine said.

So Lemoine with some help from friends snuck into Bush’s office, removed all of the furniture and placed scrap purple turf from PNG, then moved all the furniture back in. There were purple streamers, and balloons, purple cupcakes and the PNG fight song “Cherokee” playing on a loop on his computer.

The group then hid and waited for him to arrive.

There are plenty more stories of Bush’s jokes as well as his accomplishments in law enforcement.

Nederland City Manager Chris Duque said it has been a privilege to work alongside Bush.

“He’s always been somebody I could rely on, could count on, that I knew always had the best interest of the community at heart,” Duque said. “He’s been a very strong defender of the men and women that work with him at the police department and dispatch.”

The city will host a reception in Bush’s honor from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at the Nagel building, 1400 Boston Ave., Nederland.