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Community Highlights: Meet David Emerick of Viking Private Investigations

Today we’d like to introduce you to David Emerick.

Hi David, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start, maybe you can share some of your backstories with our readers?
I suppose it’s always best to start with your foundation. I grew up in a lower-middle-class family. I was born in Fayetteville, NC. My father did three tours in Vietnam, one in the Army as a helicopter door gunner and two with the Marines as a scout sniper. After that, he went into law enforcement. He didn’t have such a sense of humor; he wasn’t the kind, cuddly dad, but he was a good father. People would often hear about my dad’s military service and say he was a hero. I LEARNED WHAT A HERO WAS when I was old enough to understand that he would work two or three extra jobs starting in September or October just so my older brother and I would have a good Christmas. For all his faults, my dad taught me to be there for my family. I also learned from him a strong sense of right and wrong, to be pragmatic, and especially to get up when life knocks you down. Life is what it is, and there is no sense in complaining about it. My mother was a church secretary. My dad worked and turned his money over to her, and my mom ran the house. She ensured we were well fed, clothed, did our homework, and went to church. My family moved around a lot until my father retired from the military, and we moved back to North Carolina when I was in the second grade.

I think I suffered in my youth from a condition of not wanting to settle down. My father taught me many things, but the one thing he tried to teach me that took the longest was discipline. I seldom thought about where I was or what I was doing. I never got into the party scene or did drugs, and I just wanted to see the next thing over the horizon, see the world. I wasn’t the best student as my parents wanted me to attend college. I honestly barely made it out of high school. I wanted to be a Marine like my dad; he said I would last two seconds in the Marines, so I went into the Navy and served as a Corpsman. Nothing against the military; my hat is off to anyone who signs that dotted line. I think The Navy tried to do their best for me, but even that didn’t help me settle down. I got out on an honorable discharge and moved from job to job, stocker, security, loss prevention, etc.

I even learned electrical work at an all-girls school in maintenance. Nothing seemed to interest me or focus me. Then one day, I got a call from my friend Androus in Estonia. He was building a hotel over there and wanted to know if I wanted to come and help. So I went to Eastern Europe on a whim and a dare. I think it was a good experience for me. In some ways, it helped me grow up, and in other ways, not so much. I learned the bars stayed open till 6 am, and back then, Estonia used Kroons, not Euros and the exchange rate was just perfect for gambling. I probably would have continued living like that, but I remember playing blackjack one day. One of the guys I had befriended was playing at the same table with me and a German Expat named Joseph. I think he was former East German Secret Police or something along those lines. We were talking and not really paying attention to our bets, and just out of the blue, he changed the subject from what we were talking about and said, “What are you doing here? Why don’t you go home and do something with your life instead of wasting it here?” He said something about me being too smart to waste my time so far from home. I’ve heard that all my life, I was too intelligent to be doing whatever I was at the time.

I always let it go in one ear and out the other. This time though, it stuck. I don’t know why or how his words cut through the slightly buzzed state I was in. I remember thinking of my family. That adult feeling of the weekend is over; I’m glad he asked me that. I came home with a sense that I was grown up now but did not know what that meant or what I should do. My parents were happy to see me; my father, the Vietnam Vet, did not seem too pleased that it took a former Communist spy ex-pat to tell me to go home and grow up and that I listen to him. Soon after coming home, I met the woman I would eventually marry, putting my plans of making something of myself into high gear. She was the high octane to my ambition fuel. Like my dad always told me and showed me by his fine example, a man takes care of his family.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Obstacles, life is full of them. I was in a bad car accident about a year after I left the military. I was the passenger in a Mazda. The type of car that you would find in a happy meal. I saw this girl in Chattanooga, TN, and we were on our way to see The Civil War Battlefield, and we had the green arrow to turn left across traffic, and this white Cadillac SUV ran their red light and hit my door. The crash turned the car into a giant U. The impact cracked all the ribs on my right side and shoved the right lens of my glasses into my right eye. As a side note, if you wear glasses, get the shatterproof ones; there is no sense in being cheap for your eyes. It took me about six months to learn how to see with just one working eye. Everything was bright. The injury left me blind in my right eye, but I can still see the light, which messes with my left eye, so I have to wear a jaunty eye patch. About three years later, I went to Estonia and explained why I probably went and ended up drinking and gambling, but it wasn’t my low point. My low point came when I became determined to make something of myself. I got knocked down and knocked down hard. But I didn’t get back up. I took time out of the game rather than remember my father telling me to get back up. Lesson number one: When life hits you hard the first time, take a moment to collect yourself, cry in the shower, and have a few drinks. Do not take months or years off in Eastern Europe. Get back into the game.

Fast forward to when I came home from Europe, and before I could set my plans in motion, I fell in love and married. I’m not saying that was an obstacle or a challenge, but make it what you will. I wanted to write, but I knew that wouldn’t be practical right out the gate. I had to take care of my family and bring in some money before I indulged in that. I already knew some electrical work, and I learned some welding. I went to welding school. I didn’t just learn the standard Mig, Tig, and Stick, but I learned on my own time with another student Flux-Core. Flux-Core is what they use for ships and oil rigs. So, you can see, out of a class of maybe twenty people, another student and I were already trying to set ourselves apart. Always learn the basics but try to learn something that sets you apart. Right about when we were going to graduate, the assistant instructor asked me to sign a petition against the senior instructor. His feeling as I being one of the oldest students in the class, my signature would carry some weight. He also said he would remember if I helped him and remember if I didn’t help him. I told him to go pound sand politely. He ended up ousting the other instructor without my signature. I’m not saying I did not get a welding job because of him. During the housing crash, a recommendation from your instructor would go a long way in times like that, but I did not have a welding career. Lesson number two, there are no shortcuts, and you can’t sell anyone, including yourself, to get to where you want to go. We can all point to someone who has, but would you want to do business with them? Do you think their career is on a firm foundation? Integrity is the key part to success.

I went back into loss prevention while I thought out my next move. Then, my wife told me she was pregnant around the same time my dad was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, and my wife also informed me that we were in financial trouble with over 80k in credit card debt. I was there for my first daughter being born, then my wife and I moved in with my mom and dad while she went to work. I helped my mom with my dying father and watched my baby girl. It was as good as it was difficult, but at least I was there with him when he died. I could help my mom out, and to a degree, my wife’s paycheck kept us afloat while we figured out our next move after my father passed. A man takes care of his family. My wife was on a career path, and I just lost mine for not selling out. I told my wife to work on her career as I went into security to work as many hours as possible, and for six years, my check paid off the debt. I went from being on the cusp of having a decent job to not even being able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. I will not lie and say I wasn’t tempted to go back to eastern Europe. This was my rock bottom. I have been there for anyone reading this that is at rock bottom; if there is a worse place than Hell, it’s your rock bottom. No one in your life who knows you while you are there can truly understand. Rock Bottom is a personal thing, and it’s something only you can live. You meet two types of people at rock bottom: those going to stay there and those trying to get back up. So, to anyone reading this at rock bottom, I can only say get up. What will you think of yourself tomorrow? That’s lesson number three. If you feel that once you have a plan and are determined to carry it out, you will not hit rock bottom, trust me, you will. You can only go up from that point. Life doesn’t end with failure, disappointment, or even rock bottom, and life ends when you choose to stay there. The universe is indifferent, and no one will hand you anything. You have to fight for it.

My wife got many promotions along her career path, and I was able to pay down the debts we had. At this point, I thought about being a private detective. I looked into the qualifications for North Carolina. You have to be 18, have a high school diploma or equivalent, be a US citizen or resident and not be a felon. You can check out the NCPPSB website to get all the details. There are two ways to obtain a license. You can be in law enforcement or a government agency for three years, or you can do 3k hours under a licensed private detective as a private investigator associate. The NCPPSB might take off some hours if you have a college degree in a related field, but you will still have to earn the other hours. The investigator for the board told me that my hours in loss prevention would help towards me getting a full license, he said I would only need to PIA for 1k, but I had to find a sponsor. To be a private investigator associate, you must find a private investigator to sponsor you. That’s the hard part. Many private detectives do not have the extra work or money to take on a PIA or the patience, or their feeling is, why would they train their competition. Finding a sponsor was not easy. I got a lot of hang-ups from other private investigators when I would call and tell them what I wanted. I found one to take me on, but he didn’t have the work to share. The second one I found was in the same boat. When I asked my assigned investigator from the NCPPSB, he told me two things: I can look all over the state to find a sponsor, not just one near home, and I can always try offering to PIA under them for free. My thought was, it’s only 1k hours. After a few phone calls, I found a very talented Private Investigator in Wilmington to take me on. He promised he had the work to get me to my 1k hours, and I promised I would do it for free. I wanted the license that bad; the goal was worth it. I did most of my hours for him in Jacksonville, NC, so it was like going to college. I had to pay to play, covered most of my expenses, and worked with him and then for him. I would work five or six cases at a time. 18-hour days for five or six days straight, then drive home, see my family for a day or two, wash my clothes, catch up on sleep and do it again. When I reached the 1k hour mark, I called the investigator handling my application to let him know. He told me that due to them not being able to verify if I ever worked in the capacity of loss prevention in retail, I would have to do the full 3,000 hours. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. This had put a huge strain on my marriage and my family. I was there, I was done, and now the goal post was being moved. When I asked for clarification from his supervisor, she told me she would stand by his decision. So, I had no choice but to finish the other 2,000 hours for free, as was my deal with my sponsor. By the time I was done, I had spent about 20k on hotels, food, and gas, but once I got to 3k hours, they had to give it to me. I remember the investigator called me and asked me two or three questions and then submitted my application, and I was approved. I have no hard feelings about it, and I am almost thankful it worked out that way. It was the last bit of honing I needed. It’s a great selling point. I can tell any client or attorney wanting to hire me that I got my license the hardest way a person can get it. I am not going back to rock bottom. I have to be good at what I do. I do not have a pension from the state for being in law enforcement to fall back on, nor was I rubber-stamped and my license handed to me. I worked for free for a year and a half to get my license. If I did all that to get my license, what do you think I am willing to do, and how hard do you think I will work for you? Lesson four, do whatever you must do within the bounds of the law and the rules to get to where you want to go. If they move the goal post, run faster and work harder. Think long-term. You might be working for free now, but in a year or two, you will have met your goal, and those days will be behind you. I’m a guy who spent twenty years chasing his tail and seeking the next adventure. I never went to college, and I am half-blind. I wanted to take care of my family. That helped focus me, and now, I run my own business because I got back in the game, stayed true to myself, refused to stay at rock bottom, and no matter how far that goal post was moved, I kept running.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
You can do many different things with a private investigator’s license. It is not just chasing cheating spouses. You have worker’s compensations; these come from insurance companies and are the classic, a person fakes an injury and says he hurt his back on the job, and you record him moving furniture or at a water park. I know investigators that this is all they do; they love the chase and the hunt. There are domestics: the cheating spouses, child custody cases, cases involving civil courts, and court orders. Background checks, if it’s for a client who wants to know if their date is not a wanted felon to companies and even state and federal agencies that want checks done on their employees—missing person and assets. In criminal cases for defense attorneys, this is when you are hired by an attorney or third party to go through the police’s investigation to see if the police have the right person, if procedures were followed, or find mitigating circumstances. Executive Protection can be anything from being unarmed watching a construction crew remodel a store and keeping an eye on things to being armed and protecting a person, business, or event. To do EP work, you have to pass a few more tests, a DOJ-style shooting qualification, a background check, and pay to have that “Armed” endorsement on your license.

I was trained to do all this; my sponsor ensured I was well-rounded and had me do it all. I am not a fan of workers comps, but I make sure a few times a year to get out and do a few to keep the skill level up. You want to have the things you like doing; for me, it’s criminal cases and missing persons, but I do not want to limit myself or let my skill set drop off. I was trained to do a lot of cases to help people. If I take the job and sign a contract with a client, I take it seriously and do what I am paid to do. It’s important to my client; it’s important to me. Like I said before, here is what I had to do to get to where I am, thinking of what I would do for you.

Risk-taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
The real risks are getting to your goal. If you are going from being a corporate worker to opening your shop, you will have to change your outlook on life and your lifestyle and be able to think long and short term. The most rewarding risk is you might prove everyone wrong and make it. After that, it’s your boat to steer. Any risk I have done with my company pales compared to what it took to get here. In the beginning, I worked as a licensed PI for free to get my name out there, but I had to work for free to get my license. I work as a contractor for other PIs to get a quarter for the money and still do my job. I had to work for another PI to get my license. The only thing worse than I shouldn’t have is I should have. Opportunity is not going to come like a space shuttle launch when everything is perfect, and it will sometimes come at the worst time. Take the risk that you are up for the challenge.

Opening any business is a risk. When you start working for yourself, you get into the pool’s deep end. It doesn’t matter if you are a PI, a painter, lawn care, or an attorney. You are now your person; you are the boss. The risk is all on you. The burden of drumming up business, making contacts, and keeping clients and your employees happy is all on you. I pay my PIA, I pay her before I get paid, and I pay her well. I’m not afraid to market her and push her to be the best. She’s bilingual and works a lot of my armed executive protection contracts. I could not be more proud of her. Sometimes the risk is on who you hire. I have had a few letdowns, but in the end, each one taught me something. I run my business in the same fashion as my family. A real leader leads by example and takes care of his people. There is a balance, though the reward is all yours as well. The only thing you do not risk is your reputation. Keep your word to your clients, your employees, and yourself. Do the best work you can; you can do no better, and you should never settle to do worse.

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1 Comment

  1. Sara Warner

    June 19, 2022 at 10:51 pm

    100% recommend this company.

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