by Ivan Foleys
Expect the unexpected.
Police officers are trained to do just that. The law enforcement mantra of "there's no such thing as a routine traffic stop" came into play during a Landmark Newspaper ride-along with the Missouri State Highway Patrol on Memorial Day weekend.
It was designed to give the newspaper and its readers an inside look at a weekend night shift in the life of a state trooper. What it showed is that in a trooper's world, there is rarely anything routine about the routine.
Sgt. D.J. Hedrick of Troop H, Zones 1 and 2, Platte County, welcomed the newspaper aboard. His shift began at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 26 and would end at 3 a.m. Sunday, May 27.
The rainy Saturday evening in Platte County was enlivened for Sgt. Hedrick and several other area law enforcement officers shortly before midnight. A 29-year-old black male--whose name has not yet been released by authorities because charges are still pending--fled in his car after being pulled over by Sgt. Hedrick for no front license plate.
Sgt. Hedrick said it was only the second time in his nearly 15 years with the patrol that he recalls a driver fleeing on him after having been pulled over. Many have been slow--or flat out refused--to stop after the red lights came on, but only one previously had fled after having been stopped.
The fleeing suspect was already on probation. He had no driver's license and was driving a car that wasn't registered.
After having escaped the line of vision of the officer whom he may have thought was still hot on his tail, the suspect was involved in a hit-and-run accident.
The suspect, believed to be from Kansas City, fled the scene of the crash he allegedly caused near 72nd St. and Montrose, west of Interstate 29 at Platte Woods, in front of the Park Hill Christian Church.
Witnesses said he was driving with the headlights shut off on his Ford Thunderbird. The accident appeared to have occurred after his westbound car had crested a small hill, possibly driving left of center, allegedly causing a crash involving the female driver of an eastbound SUV. The crash caused severe damage, likely totaling the SUV, which wiped out a fire hydrant near the edge of the road.
The driver of the SUV, 29-year-old Mindy Morris of Kansas City, did not seek medical attention at the scene but was encouraged to seek treatment later by law officers. Air bags in her vehicle deployed, and she obviously was jarred by the impact. She was vomiting at the scene.
A witness to the crash said she saw the suspect exit his vehicle and take off on foot toward a residential area. Despite a search of the area by officers and the Platte County Sheriff's Department canine, the suspect was not found. Officers said the dog appeared to pick up a scent on a fence behind one residence, but could not track the suspect any further.
Discovered in the suspect's abandoned vehicle was some paperwork, including receipts from a car repair shop and a gambling card from a Kansas City casino, that helped lead Hedrick to identify the man authorities consider to be the suspect.
Authorities say he could face a variety of charges, including potential felonies for resisting arrest by fleeing and leaving the scene of an accident that caused extensive damage. There is a laundry list of traffic citations the driver could face, authorities report.
The Landmark will follow the case and report the suspect's name and other details that become available when charges are filed.
What follows is a synopsis of the ride-along events in chronological order.
SATURDAY, MAY 26
7:50 p.m.: After spending nearly the first hour of his shift doing paperwork required of him in his supervisory duties, Sgt. D.J. Hedrick parks his patrol car in front of The Landmark in downtown Platte City. He spends a good minute or two moving items around inside the car to make room for his passenger. "Now it's clean," he says, pointing to the front passenger seat.
The ride-along has officially kicked off.
7:55 p.m.: Hedrick uses tuning forks and an internal tester on his radar equipment, calibrating the tool that would be used extensively on this night. A laptop computer is mounted on the center console, a sign of the high-tech world. The laptop can be used as a communication device with other patrol officers. It cuts down on radio talk time, freeing up air time for more dire needs. It also can bring up driver's license information/photos and other handy details when prompted.
Hedrick explains it's a CARE weekend for the Highway Patrol, which is an acronym for Combined Accident Reduction Enforcement. Getting special attention during this time will be aggressive driers, seat belt violations, and hazardous moving.
8 p.m.: "We'll basically be roving. .. until we see a violation," says the sergeant, a father of a two-year old son whose picture is mounted on his dashboard. The Hedrick family resides near Platte City.
The first car stop of the night takes place near the Hwy. 92/Hwy. 273 spur intersection in Tracy. It's a Ford Expedition. Hedrick believes the windows are tinted beyond the legal limit. The stop is made, Hedrick uses a device to measure the darkness of the tint on the front windows. As he suspected, it measures deeper than the limit--at 14%, beyond the 30% tint allowed by law.
Hedrick lets the driver off with a warning. "I don't feel bad giving them a break the first time," he says, while adding that if he sees the vehicle again and the tint has not been corrected, he will issue a ticket. The tint law is designed to protect police officers, with too dark a tint preventing law officers from getting a look at the driver and others in the front seat.
8:15 p.m.: While driving west on Hwy. 92 a couple miles outside of Tracy, Hedrick sees a red Camaro traveling with no license plates. This becomes the second stop of the evening. The male driver tells Hedrick he had just purchased the car that day and obviously hadn't yet licensed it. Hedrick lets him go after a short visit.
8:20 p.m.: Radio traffic indicates Weston police and Platte County deputies are dealing with a juvenile who fled on foot from a Weston officer. Hedrick radios to offer assistance if needed. It wouldn't be. The juvenile, said to be a familiar face to Weston police, is later detained.
8:25 p.m.: A quick drive back into Platte City's downtown produces a stop when Hedrick notices a young child passenger in a mini-van is not wearing a seatbelt. As it turns out, neither is the driver. Two tickets are issued to the driver, one for failing to wear his own seat belt and another for the reason or the stop--failure to secure a child less than eight years old. As a questionable consolation, Hedrick delivers Royals baseball cards to the kids in the van.
A BRIEF INTERLUDE: A pause in activity offers the chance to ask Hedrick what he enjoys about his job.
"I like the freedom. It's not boring. . .and I'm outside. And I get to interact with people.”
Hedrick's father served as a Highway Patrolman, so he came into the career naturally. He started as a trooper in 1993 in Butler in Bates County. After five years he went to Lee's Summit in Jackson County. He has been a sergeant in Platte County since 2002.
He speaks highly of the Highway Patrol as an agency.
"People know our reputation and how thorough a job we do. I work an accident as though it was my car and my family involved," he said.
"It feels good to help people. We do some things that are positive," he continued.
He says he has softened a bit over the past 14 years on the job.
"When I first got out of the academy, I was pretty aggressive. I've kind of mellowed," he said.
"But in this job, you don't trust people a lot. You can't be naive. People will lie to you.”
He said 10 Highway Patrol officers serve Platte County. On Friday and Saturday nights, three or four of them might be on duty, primarily working the major highways and interstates. He praises the Platte County Sheriff's Department for "working all the secondary roads," which takes a load off the Patrol.
"The county has a very proactive sheriff's department. We have a good rapport with them," he says in a complimentary tone.
8:55 p.m.: Hedrick is now southbound on Interstate 29, just south of Dearborn. A southbound Suzuki sedan passes him in the left lane doing 78 mph. His radar equipment pointed behind him had detected the speeder approaching. As the female driver motors by with no signs of slowing down--apparently oblivious to the Highway Patrol car she had just passed--the red lights come on and the sedan with a female driver quickly pulls over.
"She said they are headed to a movie and her mind was on what movie they're going to see," Hedrick remarked. "Her husband wasn't as excited about the movie," he said of the passenger.
Hedrick lets the driver off with a warning.
9:15 p.m.: At I-29 near Tiffany Springs, Hedrick pulls to the shoulder of the road and begins to "run some radar." As drivers stick at or near the posted limit, he remarks: "They're pretty much behaving themselves." He pulls over one driver doing 76 mph, though no ticket for speeding is issued. Instead, the driver is ticketed for being a Missouri resident with an out-of-state (Florida) driver's license.
10:30 p.m.: Southbound I-29 near Hwy. 152. A Kansas driver, operating a Ford Mustang with a broken taillight, is stopped. He gets off with a warning.
10:45 p.m.: Southbound I-29 at Tiffany Springs. As a light rain comes down, a taxi cab driver is clocked at 76 mph, though the driver disputes it. "I was driving 60 in the rain," the taxi driver says. Hedrick's radar disagrees.
11:25 p.m.: Time for a bathroom/beverage break at the Quik Trip on Barry Road just west of I-29. Hedrick buys a fountain drink and visits with store employees. A second Platte County trooper is scheduled to meet Hedrick for the quick break but on his way to the store makes a couple of car stops instead. Duty calls, so the connection is missed.
As Hedrick exits the Quik Trip door and makes his way down the sidewalk, a young male driver with a male passenger is pulling into a handicapped parking space. "Handicapped. .. handicapped," Hedrick yells, politely but firmly. The windows are down in the car. "Sorry sir," the passenger hollers back, motioning with his hand as if in some sort of surrender, and his buddy quickly backs out of the space.
POST QUIK TRIP: On this night, this would be the last "routine" incident for Hedrick and a journalist riding shotgun.
As Hedrick's patrol car sat facing east at the stop light on Barry Road preparing to head southbound on I-29, a westbound Ford Thunderbird turned left onto the southbound onramp. Hedrick noticed the Ford Thunderbird did not have a front license plate.
The night was about to hit a more frantic pace.
(In next week's Landmark: The car stop that featured strange behavior by a suspect, the suspect fleeing the scene, a pursuit, the suspect's later involvement in a hit-and-run accident at Platte Woods, and resulting charges. And what The Landmark editor did during it all).