Car trouble propels meeting of minds of black motorist, Houston County deputy
Onalaska man capitalizes on coincidental teaching moments
ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) — Stan Evans of Onalaska and his 15-year-old son, Sean, were on a simple day trip to a birthday party in Spring Grove, Minn., when car trouble yielded two unexpected teaching moments.
Sean is learning to drive, so when their vehicle conked out near Hokah, Minn., a couple of weeks back, Evans said he thought, “OK, here’s a good learning experience.”
With smoke billowing from under the hood, Evans said, “I showed him how to just let it cruise to the side of the road. I’m not a mechanic, so I showed him the basic things to check — the radiator, etc.”
Evans summoned roadside assistance to tow the car and sat on the side of the road to wait for his father-in-law to take them the rest of the way to his mother-in-law’s party.
The second teachable moment occurred when Houston County Deputy Matt Seitz, who was on routine patrol, pulled over to check on them.
The 57-year-old Evans, who is black, thought, “Now, here’s a good chance to show my son how to act when an officer stops, with everything that’s been going on.”
He thanked Seitz for his concern, and “I told him we appreciated that he stopped — and I appreciate what he does,” Evans recalled in an interview about the recent incident.
Nationwide outbreaks of racial tension and violence in this summer of discontent and disorder have prompted Sean and his sister, 12-year-old Karissa, to ask questions about racial issues — especially a police officer’s killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 and other incidents in which police have killed Blacks or used excessive force, Evans said.
Seitz began driving up the highway, then pulled into a driveway and turned around, Evans said.
“All of a sudden, my son looks over and says, ‘Dad, he’s coming back,’” Evans said.
Seitz stopped and offered them a couple of Mountain Dews, Evans said.
“For me, I was taken aback” at the deputy’s extra effort to make a kind gesture, he said.
The action prompted interaction, “and we got into a wonderful discussion about what’s been going on,” said Evans, who enjoyed the exchange so much that he invited Seitz to join him in a selfie.
Seitz’s police radio crackled with another call, so the newfound friends bid each other adieu and went their separate ways.
“I told Sean not all police officers are bad,” Evans said, “There are many good ones out there.”
After the experience, Evans said, “I needed to make a difference. I’m just a black man, but I thought, ‘Let me bridge the gap’ and decided to use the Facebook platform.”
Evans posted a Facebook message that said, in part, “Friends in Houston County, a Special Shout Out to Officer Matt Seitz for stopping and offering assistance when my car broke down this weekend! Offered Sean & myself some cold Mountain Dews while we were waiting for tow truck to haul car back to dealership.
“During our time, we engaged in a very meaningful conversation regarding recent events, and I am just appreciative for his care for helping a human being in need!
“If you know him, Please Express my Gratitude!”
Responses to and shares of the post were so positive, Evans said that “I’m totally blown away. Listen, people: Not all cops are bad. We need to recognize it.”
Seitz declined an interview about the incident. Sheriff Mark Inglett explained that the deputy just likes to do his job without fanfare or seeking credit.
“He brings character to the department, and he believes in helping people,” said Inglett, who described the encounter between Seitz, Evans and his son as “awesome.”
“He’s a solid person, and I never have to worry when he’s on duty,” Inglett said.
The sheriff cited another encounter as typical of Seitz’s approach to his job — and his regard for people in general.
A woman fleeing a domestic violence situation needed gas, so Seitz took her to a gas station and bought her $20 worth, Inglett said. That gesture, in turn, inspired the station owner to donate another $20 worth of fuel.
“It’s just what he feels is doing right,” Inglett said.
Asked about negative attitudes toward law enforcement that have roiled the summer, Inglett lamented the tendency to blame all officers for the misdeeds of a few.
“It’s disappointing and disheartening,” he said, noting that every profession harbors shameful characters. “It shouldn’t take away from everyone … and deputies like Matt Seitz.”
On the other hand, increasing numbers of people have made positive calls to the sheriff’s office, Inglett said.
“I truly am appreciative of the citizens out there who call and say they appreciate what we do. I appreciate that,” Inglett said.
Evans echoed that sentiment, saying, “The bad ones make them all look bad, but they’re not. I have friends and relatives in law enforcement. Many are people just like me.”
Evans, a Chicago native who has been married for 15 years to his wife, Kimberly, is an IT technician at CenturyLink.
Even though he has had a couple of harassing encounters with police, including one in La Crosse, he said he chooses not to dwell on them. He opted not to talk about them during the interview.
“I just move on,” he said. “There was harassment, but nothing happened, and nobody was hurt, so I just let it go.”
Nonetheless, Evans said he is surprised that “I find myself telling my kids how to act. My wife is white, so it’s my own naiveness.”
After moving to the La Crosse area and starting a family, he said, “I won’t have to tell my son how to act — a black father’s rite of passage.
“But all of a sudden, we need to talk about these things,” he said. “The rioting and looting — I’m not for it. I don’t agree with it, but I understand. When George Floyd was killed, I was angry.”
Evans said he doesn’t understand why some police shoot to kill instead of just to disable and capture — especially when someone is fleeing.
“Put in the police position, I can empathize, but I can’t understand,” he said.
“I’m a Black Lives Matter person,” he said. “When somebody counters that ‘all lives matter,’ they’re not listening.
“We all need to listen, learn, communicate, understand and empathize. That’s my basic customer service sense of life. Understand what people are going through, then assist or help,” he said.
“I don’t have the answers,” he acknowledged, adding that he does espouse one action.
“VOTE,” he insisted. “Make a statement — get out and vote. That’s one of the things I’m pushing. Don’t take things for granted.”