Saturday, February 24, 2018
Transportation

Sheriff's Office amps up enforcement to slow down summertime traffic

Two Hernando County sheriff's deputies waited like fishermen, tucked in a police cruiser behind the bushes and trees near the intersection of Sand Ridge and Elgin boulevards in Spring Hill. Heavy metal played softly in the back seat.

Nearby on Elgin, Sgt. Scott Lamia, head of the sheriff's traffic division, was stationed with Lt. John Cameron IV. They were dressed like members of a road crew and standing in front of a long, white truck with amber lights.

Lamia weaved a laser among the early afternoon traffic, pinpointing the fastest cars and radioing exact speeds to Deputy Steven Johnson and deputy-in-training Bruce Nichols.

It was part of the Sheriff Office's ramped-up effort to enforce speed limits for two weeks, a project that ended Friday.

A team of 10 officers targeted problem areas each day — mostly feeder roads like Mariner and Northcliffe boulevards, Lamia said.

Normally, four deputies are on traffic duty at any given time, Lamia said. During the two weeks before the special enforcement period, deputies stopped 432 vehicles and issued 324 citations.

During the special enforcement, 679 drivers were pulled over, and 477 of them were given tickets. Lamia said speeding drivers were exceeding posted limits on average by 13 mph to 15 mph, with the highest speed at 30 mph faster than the maximum.

Summertime is when speeding is especially dangerous, Lamia said, which is why he chose the last two weeks of June to increase enforcement.

"Kids are out of school and biking, running around more," he said. "I look at it personally — my son is 8, and he's out biking and riding in the car a lot more than normal. So we want to slow people down to avoid tragedies."

The timing of the ramped-up effort unfortunately meant that many deputies suffered under the hot sun, especially those on motorcycles.

"I'm going home to change my underwear at lunchtime," Deputy Mike Welshans announced.

Waiting on his motorcycle for the next speeder, sweat dripped and dripped from Welshans' face to the hot asphalt.

Johnson's hands tightened on the wheel when he heard Lamia say over the radio, "Red SUV, 10 over." Nichols sat back while Johnson revved around the corner and sped east on Elgin to catch the red Ford Flex.

Johnson gave the driver a warning about speeding and a ticket because of driving on a suspended license.

"I was really surprised; I was going the same pace as everyone else," said Demetrius Bvinson, 18, of Spring Hill.

Meanwhile, Nichols flagged down a red Firebird coming up fast on the flashing cruiser, going east on Elgin. The driver, 26-year-old Adam Barakat of Weeki Wachee, said that the recent expansion of parts of Elgin from two lanes to four is confusing to motorists because the speed limit has not changed.

"I saw the surveyor guys (Cameron and Lamia), and I was like, 'That almost looks like a radar gun,' but then I was like 'no,' " said Barakat, a welder who was on his way to work when Nichols flagged him down and gave him a ticket for going 62 mph in a 45 mph zone.

"It's unfair, because these roads widened but the limits didn't change," he said.

On Thursday, Lamia led deputies to the area of Pinehurst and Trenton drives in Spring Hill, based on complaints from a man living on Pinehurst.

"The traffic situation on this road is absolutely crazy. These people are very aggressive on this road because it's a cutoff," said 52-year-old Chris Wakefield, who called the Sheriff's Office to notify them that drivers were speeding.

"There's a lot of people living here, walking their dogs, walking and riding bikes," he said.

He recounted a neighborhood boy handing out fliers last week on the roadside — which has no sidewalk — and nearly getting knocked over by the rush of an oncoming vehicle.

Lamia and his deputies pulled over 17 drivers speeding in the neighborhood on Thursday.

"I'm glad they finally did something," Wakefield said.

Alison Barnwell can be reached at (352)754-6114 or [email protected]

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