By Mary O’KEEFE
Recently CVW was allowed to ride along with California Highway Patrol Officer Ryan Bejar and Officer Manuel Rodriguez on two separate occasions. The first ride along was during the day with Officer Rodriguez, who works out of the Altadena CHP office.
Most Crescenta Valley residents would recognize Officer Manuel Rodriguez when he patrols the area. Not only is he in the foothills frequently, he was also part of the school safety meetings with Crescenta Valley Town Council President Robbyn Battles. Rodriguez is often in the area during the local schools’ drop off and pick up times. He was also active in the CV area before and after the implementation of the big rig street parking restrictions. Big rig trucks had been parking along local streets for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved parking restrictions along local streets in the unincorporated area of L.A. County/La Crescenta that were similar to restrictions in Altadena and the City of Glendale.
Rodriguez said the issues in the CV area are mainly speeding, not stopping at stop signs, and distracted driving – an issue throughout California.
“In school zones, speeding is usually [committed by drivers] in the 30- to 40-year-old age group,” he said. It is often parents who are in a hurry to drop off their child and get to work.
Another issue is drivers not stopping at stop signs. Rodriguez parked at a corner near Rosemont and Orange avenues, near Monte Vista Elementary School.
“I am not hiding,” he said in his marked CHP patrol unit that was parked on the corner in plain sight.
Some drivers obviously noticed his car and slowed as they approached the stop sign to come to a full stop; however, many rolled through the intersection. One person drove through without attempting to stop.
“He was driving about 10 miles per hour through the intersection,” Rodriguez said. “He wasn’t paying attention.”
CHP vehicles have the capability to video the officer as he, or she, makes the stop. Rodriguez said he liked that his actions could be recorded.
As one might expect, Rodriguez has heard many excuses over the years as to why someone was speeding or didn’t stop or was on the phone. Rodriguez recalled one incident when excuses were made in several languages.
“At one stop, a driver first said he didn’t speak English well [and spoke Spanish],” he said. “I am Cuban so I answered him in Spanish. Then he started speaking French. I know some French, so I answered him.”
The driver continued to try other languages claiming each time he did not understand anything except that one language.
“I think we made it all the way to German before he realized this was not going to work,” he said.
The driver then addressed him in English.
At an intersection in Pasadena, Rodriquez was once again parked in plain sight when a driver sped through the intersection while on the phone. Rodriguez made the traffic stop and the driver said he knew he was not supposed to be on the phone but had to let his client know he was on his way.
Fines for talking or texting while driving vary depending on the city. In Pasadena the fine is $162 for the first-time offender. In other areas the fines can be larger if cities add their own penalties.
Along the freeway, CHP officers concentrate on distracted drivers and those driving above the speed limit but they also are there to help stranded drivers and to call in obstacles in the road. Rodriguez said along the Foothill (210) Freeway a lot of times there are big rig tires in the path.
There is also another aspect to the CHP patrol. Being state police, they deal with Homeland Security issues as part of their training. In the case of a threat, they are responsible for all state-owned property like the Golden Gate Bridge.
And then there are the homeless encampments that spring up along the 210 Freeway. The vegetation that makes the freeway visually pleasing is also great camouflage for an encampment. Rodriguez works with the HOPE (Homeless Outreach-Psychiatric Evaluation) team, an organization that is sponsored by the Pasadena Police and Los Angeles County Dept. of Mental Health.
A statewide problem, if not a nationwide one, is accidents caused by distracted drivers. Rodriguez has seen many accidents due to distracted driving and urged drivers to pay attention while driving – don’t answer a phone, eat or put on make-up – just drive.
This point was illustrated when CVW and Rodriguez were driving back to the Altadena office. At the exit of the 210 Freeway to the office, Rodriguez was at a red light. But when it turned green he, along with the traffic next to him, waited. Rodriguez cautiously entered the intersection just as a car ran the red light. If Rodriguez hadn’t stopped and waited, the driver would have struck his vehicle.
“[The driver] was going about 40 miles per hour,” he said as he turned his lights on and pulled the driver over. She told him she had completely missed seeing the red traffic signal.
Sometimes you don’t have to be on the phone to be distracted.
Next week, the second part of the CHP ride along will be published when CVW joins Officer Ryan Bejar for DUI compliance checks and finds out what happens on the streets after midnight when the bars close down.