By RAELYNN RICARTE
News staff writer
August 23, 2006
A 29-mile stretch of Interstate 84 was not the place for a speeding motorist to be on Friday — especially if he or she was transporting drugs.
The Oregon State Police were on the lookout from noon to 8 p.m. from milepost 40 to 69. Troopers were joined by deputies from the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, putting more than 15 patrol cars on the freeway.
Red and blue flashing lights became almost commonplace as drivers not obeying traffic laws were pulled over and cited. In total, the saturation patrol resulted in 147 stops and three arrests. Semi-truck drivers finally began to warn each other to watch out for “Smokeys laying in wait” along the freeway.
As OSP Sgt. Julie Wilcox had predicted at an earlier briefing, the visible law enforcement presence slowed drivers down. And that, she said, meant that travel was safer during a busy summer afternoon.
“It makes a difference when you see an officer out on the road. You just automatically take your foot off the gas pedal,” she said.
Wilcox said two individuals were arrested for possession of marijuana and one for driving with a suspended license. In addition, she said 21 speeding tickets were written and 62 warnings issued.
Two drivers were cited for hazardous traffic violations and 43 given warnings. Another five tickets were written to people not wearing seatbelts and five were warned to start using the safety devices. Two citations were given for miscellaneous infractions and 92 warnings delivered.
Law enforcement officials also dealt with two wrecks, one in Rowena that was outside of the special emphasis area.
Trooper Joe DeGreco arrived from Salem with his drug dog Reggie to sniff out drug traffickers. The black lab scored the big bust of the day after alerting officers to marijuana in the trunk of a vehicle driven by Joshua McKinney, 23, of Mt. Hood. A half-ounce of marijuana had allegedly been found in his pocket — and he reportedly admitted that the other three ounces recovered from inside the car were also his. He had initially been stopped for speeding and having dual registrations.
“This just goes to show you what we can do if we are out there and working with good interagency cooperation,” said Wilcox.
She said reductions in the OSP force now mean that there are times of the day or night when no one is patrolling I-84. Currently there are nine troopers working out of The Dalles central office to cover 650 miles of freeway and state highways in Hood River, Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam and Wheeler counties.
According to OSP Lt. Glenn Chastain, there were 52 troopers covering the Gorge area in 1980 — when OSP dollars were kept in a dedicated fund.
He said after the money to run the agency was placed in the general fund, the budgetary problems began. The challenge, said Chastain, is that Oregon’s population is growing and the number of state police on the road is shrinking.
He said in 1980 there were 664 patrol troopers in Oregon and today that number stands at 322. Meanwhile, the population of Oregon was reported at 2.66 million in 1980 by the U.S. Census Bureau. But was up to 3.47 million by 2002 — and is still climbing rapidly.
Chastain said Gov. Ted Kulongoski plans to put another 125 troopers out on the road. But OSP estimates it needs 139 more officers to provide round-the-clock coverage.
According to Chastain, that would increase DUII arrests by a statewide average of 5,004 per biennium, bring to jail 6,672 more wanted subjects and 5,000 drug dealers, and provide assistance to 26,132 stranded motorists.
Meanwhile, Wilcox said the small force of Gorge troopers will do their best to keep state highways and I-84 safe for travelers.