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City officers widening patrols through federal overtime lock horns with business owner

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By Linda Ireland

 

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Hodgenville officers have been citing more drivers for DUI, speeding and not wearing their seatbelts, thanks to a federal highway safety grant. Police Chief Steve Johnson provides monthly reports about their effectiveness to the Transportation Cabinet.

However, they’ve managed to annoy one county business owner as they patrol outside city limits.

Donald McDowell, owner of McDowell Farm Machinery Sales and Service, said he’s had problems on two occasions with officers turning around in or blocking his driveway during business hours.

Just before 5 p.m. on Oct. 21, City Officer Eddie Dockery stopped a GMC sports utility vehicle on U.S. 31-E between Hodgenville and Magnolia.

The driver, who was cited for going 14 miles per hour over the speed limit, brought the vehicle to a stop in front of McDowell’s business. Officer Dockery parked behind the GMC.

McDowell said Dockery’s cruiser blocked the driveway to his business “during a busy time.”

“There was a truck coming in and another trying to go out,” he said. 

A semi tanker was attempting to leave McDowell’s on its way to Loretto to pick up liquid distillery slop used to feed cattle. The driver had an hour to make the trip, McDowell said. (Editor’s note: The drive takes about 45 minutes, depending on traffic.)

Another large truck hauling a load of gates was trying to turn in from the south and was blocking the road, he added.

He estimated Officer Dockery was in the driveway 40 minutes.

“Does it take that long to write a ticket?” McDowell said. “Do we block McDonalds’ driveway?”

McDowell said he asked Officer Dockery three times to move the cruiser.

“He said he would when he got finished,” McDowell said.

At some point, Officer Dockery moved the cruiser and let the truck out. When he completed the citation for the alleged speeder, he drove across the road and parked in front of McDowell’s house. 

“He was sitting across the road about 10 minutes,” McDowell said, as he showed a couple of photos that were taken of the officer in his cruiser.

(Editor’s note: The driver of the SUV worked out a diversion agreement with the county attorney’s office. If she does not have any other charges in six months, the speeding charge will be dropped and she will not have to pay a fine, according to court records.)

Turnaround

About three weeks earlier, Officer James Richardson was in pursuit of a driver and turned around in McDowell’s driveway.

When the cruiser pulled out, it kicked up gravel, spraying a $45,000 tractor a customer had just purchased, McDowell said. 

“It threw gravel everywhere,” he said.

McDowell complained to Hodgenville Mayor Terry Cruse about the gravel striking the tractor.

Cruse said he and Officer Richardson returned to the business to speak to McDowell about possible damages and offer “to make it right.” 

The officer did turn around in the drive, Cruse said, but did not think he had thrown gravel. Cruse said he asked about the cost of damages and was informed there wasn’t any.

“I told him I wanted them to stay out of my driveway,” said McDowell.

Federal overtime

U.S. 31-E is one of the roadways the state designated for extra patrols, according to Chief Johnson. The state highway grant pays the officer’s overtime for working extra shifts on it and several other roadways in LaRue County.

“We’ve had numerous complaints (about speeders) from parents whose children go to (Abraham Lincoln Elementary School),” said Johnson. “I’ve had people walk up and shake my hand and thank me for running patrol out there.”

Many times drivers don’t realize they are traveling in a school zone and need to lower their speed as they near ALES. Others simply drive too fast.

“They think they’re on I-65,” said Johnson.

When the officers “run radar” near the school, it may take a couple of miles before they get the driver to pull over, said Johnson. Drivers usually look for a “safe” place to turn in – such as McDowell’s driveway.

“I can’t control ‘where’ the driver pulls over,” he added. “In town, nine times out of 10, they’ll pull in at Rite Aid or IGA.”

Would they block McDonalds during a traffic stop?

Chief Johnson said “yes, if that’s where (the driver) stops.”

He doesn’t dispute the time McDowell said it took Officer Dockery to write the citation. 

A “normal” traffic ticket takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete, said Johnson.

The officers fill out e-warrants on a computer in the cruiser. Sometimes the connection is slow – or the state computers could be down – or the agency that checks for outstanding warrants could be having problems. Forms must be filled out and printed. The driver’s license is scanned. If the officer suspects the driver is under the influence, a field sobriety test is administered. If a traffic collision has occurred, there is a wait for a wrecker and perhaps an ambulance.

Chief Johnson said the extra patrols are keeping drivers – and businesses – safer.

“In my opinion, the federal overtime is doing what it says (it will do),” said Johnson. “Lowering injuries and fatalities, slowing people down, getting drunks off the road. I’m sorry people feel we’re inconveniencing them – but at least we’re making the roadways safer.”

Even when the officers are not working on federal overtime, they have the right to work outside city limits, said Johnson.

“By Kentucky law, the police department has countywide jurisdiction,” he said. “We can investigate anything out in the county. For instance, if I’m working on something at one of the schools, I can follow up in the county.”

“The city is our main responsibility for regular shifts,” he added.

Chief Johnson said he would bring McDowell’s complaint to the officers’ attention.

“I will talk to the officers and see if we can work something out,” he said. “We can ask (the drivers) to pull up – but we can’t make them.”