Operation Slowdown nets speeders

By AL WHELESS, Daily Dispatch Writer

Trooper D. R. Eanes' biggest catch of the morning Tuesday turned out to be a red Pontiac Sunfire.

The time was 11:24 when it flashed past his favorite fishing hole on Interstate 85 in Vance County at 92 miles per hour.

The compact walked away from Cadillacs and Lincolns with engines at least twice the size of its hamster-on-a-treadmill powerplant.

It was the second day of Operation Slowdown which is scheduled to end Sunday in Vance and Warren, as well as some other parts of the state.

“I knew that was a good speed when I saw it,” Eanes told a passenger as the North Carolina Highway Patrol car's tires furiously gripped the median gravel in a 180 before homing in on the Sunfire.

The maneuver was performed just the way he had been taught during seven months of training in Trooper School in Raleigh in 2004.

“It was something I wouldn't take anything for the experience, but I wouldn't want to do it again.”

Eanes also assumed the official driving position which consists of sitting bolt-upright with fingers wrapped around the left and right sides of the steering wheel.

The 2006 Crown Vic was still going through the gears when its prey pulled over on the right shoulder up ahead.

The driver apparently had seen the blinking blue lights enlarging exponentially in her rearview mirror before hearing the piercing siren that caused cars behind her to yield to her pursuer.

Her wait, which occupied less than a minute, took place less than a quarter of a mile from the spot where the Sunfire's offending red numbers had jumped up on Eanes' radar screen atop a miniature mountain of electronic gear.

Their visit was polite, short and not very sweet. When Eanes returned to his patrol car, he recounted the woman's tale of woe.

“She and her boyfriend had been fighting. She was already upset and not paying attention. That's a formula for a bad accident.”

He and the other members of Troop C - which patrols Vance, Warren and Franklin counties- aren't allowed to give out legal advice, Eanes said. “Sometimes I tell them (drivers) it might do for them to contact an attorney.”

The Sunfire's pilot would have to appear in court, which is required of anyone caught traveling at least 16 miles over the speed limit or more than 80 miles an hour.

Whether she would lose her license would be up to a judge who would set her fine according to the recorded speed. However, there would be a guaranteed price tag of $110 called court costs.

Eanes typed on his computer keyboard to print out the driver's ticket, which he promptly delivered to her. After using what looked like an old-fashioned tuning fork to check the accuracy of the radar, the 25-year-old trooper was on his way back to the fishing hole.

“The entire goal of us being out here is to keep people from getting hurt in wrecks,” Eanes said. “I like to think I'm trying to keep people safe - to make a difference.”

Most drivers appear to know that they are being stopped for their own good, he said. “You have some people you can't make happy, no matter what you do. With radar, I can clock them behind me or in front of me.”

Sometimes motorists will say they didn't know they were going that fast, Eanes added. “About 95 to 99 percent of the time, people know they have been caught. They don't usually put up too much fuss.”

But if someone does: “You do your job and ignore it. You can't do anything to them for saying something.”

It's rare to see a tractor-trailer rig flying past him, Eanes said, since the majority are equipped with governors that prevent their speedometer needles from rising above 65.

“Every ticket they get really affects them.”

If I-85 temporarily becomes a construction zone between the Granville and Virginia lines in October, Eanes said, speeding motorists will have to pay a $250 fine in addition to the court costs which don't vary.

The same hefty penalty goes along with violations of the state's “move over” law which Eanes thinks is good protection for the operators of Highway Patrol cruisers and other emergency vehicles that often sit on the side of the roadway.

“It's a bad feeling to be standing out there and a big one will come by at 80. A tractor-trailer can suck your hat off.”

Eight minutes after the Sunfire episode, Eanes' head swiveled from left to right before his eyes locked on the radar readout.

“Did you see those two cars side-by-side? I got one of them at 78, but I'm not sure which one it was. It wasn't a clean clock. It was their lucky day.”

Eanes' reasoning was simple: “Radar sometimes will jump around if you are near trucks. I figure if they put me on the stand in court, I want to be able to say what the radar clocked. I don't want to be second-guessing.”

Not long afterwards, it dawned on Eanes that his radio had been silent for an inordinate period of time.

A communications problem was confirmed in an e-mail message he received moments later from Dana Pernell, the district secretary whose desk is in the Troop C-4 office in Vance.

Although it was temporarily out of commission, Eanes came to the defense of the device. “Our radio system is old, old, old. It works, though. Generally, you can get to Raleigh anywhere you are, and they can talk to you.”

Wherever Eanes drove in Vance, he seemed to know exactly which of the mile markers he was near. Without them, fixing the locations of traffic stops and accidents would be tough, he acknowledged.

There are a number of I-85 exits in the county that could be used as landmarks, Eanes said. “However, In Granville, you might go 10 miles between exits.”

In two hours or less, Eanes handed out several speeding tickets and wrote two warnings. Two of the drivers who were stopped - one from Vance County, the other from Virginia - immediately presented their concealed weapon permits to the trooper, which they were required to do by law.

“A warning ticket gives people a chance to slow down,” Eanes said after passing one through the driver's window of a Toyota Corolla that had been traveling over 70.

“She had a baby in the back seat and was trying to tend to it,” Eanes explained. “I told her the interstate wasn't the place to do that.”

He recalled when his radar was tripped at 108 by a Kia (“Those little things will roll!”) on I-85 in Vance County and by an elderly Lincoln on U. S. 1 in Franklin County

Several times, Eanes complained about the “rough” and “uncomfortable” ride on the pavement between Mile Markers 212 and 213 in Vance.

“I'll be glad when they get it fixed.”

Contact the writer at awheless@hendersondispatch.com.