Speeders nabbed on Northcliffe
By KYLE MARTIN kmartin@hernandotoday.com
Published: May 10, 2007

SPRING HILL — They just kept coming.

Within 15 minutes of setting up his laser gun under a shady pine tree, Sgt. Matt Lillibridge rattled off the speeds of four cars — one barreling along at 61 mph in a 40 mph zone.

His broadcast traveled to the radios of squad cars tucked out of view just down the road at the entrance to Oak Hills Golf Course. One by one they pealed out onto Northcliffe Boulevard with lights flashing and occasionally a siren to pull over the offenders.

Day four of a crackdown on Hernando County’s speeders was underway.

On Thursday, Lillibridge adopted a familiar disguise to catch speeders off their guard. He traded his uniform for a flannel shirt, a camouflage cap and bright reflective vest. His squad car was replaced with a beat up white Ford pickup with a couple of orange traffic cones in the bed.

His appearance as a harmless land surveyor was completed by a laser gun mounted on a tripod. Not everyone is fooled, but Lillibridge says that’s not the point.

“I don’t care if people know we’re here, as long as they slow down,” said Lillibridge, who heads the sheriff’s traffic unit.

The laser gun he employs hones in on one specific car, unlike radar that gathers the speeds of all oncoming vehicles. It’s useless to argue that you weren’t speeding. Lillibridge said.

By his side is Public Service Aid Peter Montero, similarly dressed in an unassuming gray collared shirt. When Lillibridge gets a speeder in his sights, Montero radios the description and speed to the deputies waiting down the hill.

Deputy Gloria Fribley enjoys the operations because it’s a chance for the traffic unit to work as team. Traffic deputies typically roam the county doing individual enforcement.

As Montero’s voice crackled onto her radio with another speeder, Fribley could only laugh. “It’s like a merry-go-round,” she said.

One of those caught in the steady stream of speeders was Kristen Lovely, who was clocked going 54 mph in her Toyota Corolla. “As soon as I got to the top of the hill I knew I was busted,” said Lovely, 22.

She was headed home to nearby Deltona Boulevard after picking up a prescription on Mariner Boulevard. In her defense, Lovely said she just moved here last weekend and most four-lane roads in Astatula, Fla., have speed limits of 50 mph or more. “I didn’t even realize how fast I was going,” she said.

Like the others going more than 12 miles over the speed limit, she received a speeding citation for $158.

The aggressive operation on Northcliffe Boulevard was a continuation of a weeklong project aimed at speeders. Lillibridge and the seven deputies he commands have been visiting areas where the complaints are the highest, namely Spring Hill Drive and Mariner, Deltona and Northcliffe boulevards.

Besides the citations, they’ve arrested three people with outstanding warrants, “which is an added bonus,” Lillibridge said.

Some might cry foul because of Lillibridge’s subterfuge, but the deputy dismisses any claims of entrapment. Entrapment is making someone break the law, for example, if the sergeant ran out on the road and told everyone to speed because of a fire.

But the speeders on Northcliffe Boulevard are doing it 100 percent on their own, Lillibridge said. “We’ll try anything that’s legal,” he said.

The ploy also works well after the deputies pack up and leave. Many of those pulled over will now be wary of any surveying crews on the side of the road, Lillibridge said.

The limitation of using the golf course driveway is that motorists coming from Deltona Boulevard in the opposite direction can see the deputies lined up. They often start flashing their lights to warn oncoming drivers and traffic slows down.

While this creates a brief lull, a fresh wave of speeders coming from the light at Landover Boulevard will start the process all over again. Within minutes, four or five deputies line the roads with new offenders.

It doesn’t take long for citizens to wise up and start warning friends and family via cell phones. Lillibridge tries to move speed traps around to keep motorists on their toes.

Several of those passing by shook their fists at Lillibridge, even as Montero called out their description and speed. Some just wave to be friendly, though.

“Sometimes we get nice old ladies who wave as they fly by at 55 mph,” Lillibridge said. When they’re pulled over down the road the deputies tell them the “survey crew” clocked them and their demeanor changes completely. “They say ‘I’m never going to be nice again,’” Lillibridge said laughing.

Reporter Kyle Martin can be contacted at 352-544-5271