OSHP taking heat for supposed heavy patrols, but say they won#8217;t back down

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2006

SOUTH POINT — The Ohio State Highway Patrol and Ironton city officials say they have taken some heat lately over the beefed up patrols in the city limits.

But, the OSHP says the city government has not ordered the extensive patrols, and the troopers have no intention of pulling out of the city. As long as their patrols save lives and keep impaired drivers off the streets, Lt. Michael Gore, of the Highway Patrol,

says the OSHP will continue its efforts in the city to stop those who are speeding, running stop signs and red lights and driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

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“The mayor (John Elam) has not asked us to come in here. He is taking a lot of heat about this and it has nothing to do with him. There have been rumors circulating that he and other people in the city are behind all of this,” Gore said.

About six months ago, Gore explained that the troopers began heavily patrolling the city. He said the increased patrols are part of a statewide imitative — LifeStat 1.0 —designed to reduce the number of fatalities in the area, be it in the city or rural regions, to a rate of one death per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.

He said many people do not realize that troopers can patrol every public street and highway in the county.

So far this year, there have been five people killed in four accidents in the county; Gore said that is unacceptable.

“We are having an increased presence to get the impaired drivers off the street first and foremost,” Gore said. “But, they (city government) have been taking complaints ever since.”

He said OSHP has always been strict and they will continue to be.

“I’m responsible for every life in this county,” Gore said.

Last year, there were five people killed in three fatal crashes. The only fatal crash where alcohol was involved and no seatbelts were in use was in the city of Ironton, Gore said.

Elam said he supports the patrols, but wants the public to know that it is a statewide imitative. He said having more troopers on the roads makes everybody — including himself — of the importance of obeying all laws.

“He (Gore) is trying for the safety of people within his law enforcement district,” Elam said. “He exemplifies law enforcement in every way.”

Some businesses — particularly bars — have complained that the OSHP is trying to put them out of business, Gore said. This is the farthest thing from the truth, he said.

Elam said he has worked with businesses to ensure they are aware of the increased state patrol presence. Each time his office receives a memo about increased patrols, Elam said he personally visits every bar, restaurant, gas station and distributors in the area to inform them of it.

One local bar owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the patrols are costing him business — lots of business. He said no one wants to come in when they are worried they will be pulled over when they leave, even if they are not drinking and driving.

“People are getting pulled over for stupid things because the troopers think they are drunk driving, event when they are not,” he said. “They have to pay for having tail lights out or not using a turn signal when they are stopped by overzealous cops.”

He said during last week’s Rally on the River police protection was “over the top.” Many of his customers agreed and said they would not come back because of it, he said.

Gore said there was extensive OSHP presence at the Rally, but says it was like any other event that brings a great number of people out on the roads such as Labor Day, Memorial Day or New Year’s Eve. He said troopers stopped about 180 vehicles and cited only one person for driving with a suspended license.

Long-time resident Duke Sheridan said the troopers are “camping out” on the lots of the VFW and Eagles and targeting those who are leaving from those establishments, many times senior citizens and veterans who are not drunk driving.

“I’ve had a minimum of 10 people who have come up to me and told me they were scared to come to Ironton and drink two beers because of all the patrols,” Sheridan said.

He said he has been stopped five times in the past six months because troopers suspected he was drinking and driving — they were wrong.

“It’s just terrible. There is no reason for it. They have overdone it,” Sheridan said.