State police air patrol helps troopers on ground nab 15 offenders on I-495
By ROBIN BROWN, The News Journal
Posted Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Delaware State Police Cessna plane like this was used Wednesday to spot speeding drivers on I-495 in the Edgemoor area. (Buy photo) Special to The News Journal/MATTHEW JONAS

Delaware State Police tackled illegal driving from an uncommon angle Wednesday.

From above.

They sent up one of their state-owned planes to help spot violators -- targeting speeders, impaired motorists and aggressive drivers.

For about 90 minutes, the trooper-operated Cessna patrolled along I-495 in the Edgemoor area, which Delaware State Police spokesman Cpl. Jeff Whitmarsh said "is a problem area for us."

Many motorists speed in the area, he said, and because of the highway's configuration, "it's a very dangerous area for our troopers to set up and use stationary radar techniques. ... It's logistically a nightmare. You have to see a vehicle, clock it and maintain visual until it gets stopped."

Largely out of concern for troopers' safety, he said, the department opted to bring out the plane, which normally is used for transportation of prisoners.

From above, the plane spotted problem drivers, clocked their speed and identified them to troopers on the ground, he said.

"When the airplane called out the vehicle, they went out and apprehended the vehicle," Whitmarsh said.

The enforcement troopers were able not only to set up off the dangerous stretch of highway, but to stop the offenders in a safe place nearby in the area of Governor Printz Boulevard, he said.

"It's a way to keep our troopers safe," Whitmarsh said.

Costs of the air patrol were not figured, he said.

Fifteen motorists, one in a commercial vehicle, were charged with speeding during the patrol, he said. None tried to flee while being stopped, he said.

Three topped 90 mph in the 55-mph zone, according to Whitmarsh, who said officers involved were in the process of compiling the charges against the motorists.

All were charged with speeding, he said.

The state police have several such fixed-wing aircraft like the one used in Wednesday's patrol, based at Summit Aviation north of Middletown, along with several helicopters mainly used for emergency evacuation, he said.

Airplanes occasionally are used in traffic enforcement in southern Delaware, but rarely have been used in New Castle County.

"Not in quite a while," Whitmarsh said. "At least for several years."

The administration was pleased with the outcome of the air enforcement Wednesday.

"It was a really good, different technique," Whitmarsh said. "It was just a good enforcement effort with no issues that arose."