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Hernando deputies make tough calls on when to chase traffic rule violators

Re: Motorcyclists get a fast, free ride, May 12 letter

Deputies make tough chase calls

James Skinner's concern was with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office not pursuing motorcycles. As the sergeant of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office Traffic Unit, I would like to clarify this information.

There is a difference between conducting a traffic stop and chasing a vehicle. Traffic stops are conducted every day for violations of traffic law and for investigative purposes. Vehicle chases or pursuits are less frequent and involve a vehicle failing to stop for a law enforcement officer's legal request to stop. The Sheriff's Office does have a policy that details vehicle pursuits. The first sentence of the vehicle pursuit policy states, "Deputies will exercise good judgment, carefully weighing the necessity of pursuit and apprehension against the inherent risk involved."

Deputies are all aware that vehicle pursuits are not to be taken lightly. A driver who flees from law enforcement tends to have little regard for public safety. The deputy must determine if stopping a vehicle, in this case a motorcycle, is worth risking the public's safety for what is, in most cases, a civil infraction. Sheriff's Office policy also requires the on-duty supervisor monitor any pursuit that occurs in their district to ensure that pursuit policy is adhered to and the pursuit is as safe as possible. Deputies have the discretion to cancel a pursuit on their own if they feel that the pursuit is no longer a safe option.

There also are several factors that must be taken into account when evaluating the pursuits, such as location, time of day, volume of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, weather, road conditions, speed and the seriousness of the offense. The most important factor a deputy must consider is the safety of the public.

There often are times when citizens observe traffic violations that occur in the presence of a law enforcement officer and the officer does not take action. In nearly every case, this is because the officer is otherwise involved in another aspect of law enforcement. In other cases the deputy may have determined the attempt to take enforcement action is a greater risk to the public than the enforcement is worth. Deputies are constantly responding to calls for service and there are times when traffic violations must be put aside in order to get to their call.

Does this mean that deputies do not enforce traffic law? Absolutely not. The Sheriff's Office has a full-time traffic unit that is primarily responsible for traffic enforcement and vehicle crash investigations. This unit is comprised of 16 deputy positions and covers seven days of the week. The Sheriff's Office issued more than 20,000 citations in both 2006 and 2007 and worked more than 2,000 vehicle crashes each year. We are committed to making the roads as safe as possible.

If you would like to discuss a traffic-related matter you may contact me at 754-6850, ext. 53757.

Sgt. Matt Lillibridge,

Traffic Unit/ SWAT

Hernando County Sheriff's Office

Re: Motorcyclists get a fast, free ride, May 12 letter

Thank officers for their good work

Just like our troops overseas, we need to support our troops here, and that is our Sheriff's Office. It is easy to ridicule and point fingers, but I say put yourself in their shoes.

It's not easy today to be a law enforcement officer. They put their lives on the line every day for us without reservation. They save lives and at the same time they put away the criminals who are violating our everyday rights. The next time you see a police officer, a deputy sheriff or a state trooper, say, "I just wanted to say thank you for what you do every day."

Andrew J. DerDiarian,

Spring Hill

Re: Tampa officer killed in crash with Pasco truck, May 2 story

Uneven treatment for two drivers

I read this immense article with great interest. I say immense because it consumed parts of two sections in the Local & State section of this newspaper. Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Larry Coggins called the accident "a horrible case of violation of right of way," and said charges are pending against the truck's driver.

By comparison in the Hernando Times section of this paper Dec. 12, there was an article of only 71 words headlined Motorcyclist dies in U.S. 19 crash. That motorcyclist's name was Randi Lavikoff, who was run down from behind by a pickup driver. With the exception of the obvious difference in the amount of print between the two articles, there are other glaring differences in the way these two cases were handled by law enforcement.

These tragic crashes took the life of Victor Guerrero, a Tampa police officer, father of three children and three stepchildren and a biker, and Lavikoff, the mother of two sons and a biker. I intentionally do not use the word "accident,'' preferring to use the word "crash.'' The pickup drivers in both these cases experienced an accident (an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance); the motorcycle riders experienced a crash (to fall, land or hit with destructive force).

Why is the law, or rather the way the law is administered, not equal in both these cases? If I'm wrong in my interpretation of how these cases were handled, I apologize. James Brennen, the driver who killed Randi, was given a traffic violation, while Daniel Whipple, the driver who killed Victor, had his county vehicle impounded on the scene and had to submit to a drug test. Both of these motorcycle riders were doing nothing wrong, but were killed while doing what they enjoyed, motorcycle riding.

The unequal enforcement of the law by the investigating trooper/officer at the scene of a motorcycle accident has to stop. I'm not saying the investigation into Victor's accident is any more vigorous because he was a Tampa police officer, but rather, it should not be a gray area of interpretation on how to charge someone with injuring or killing any motorcycle rider.

Milton Gonzalez,


ABATE (American Bikers Aiming Towards Education) member

Hernando deputies make tough calls on when to chase traffic rule violators 05/15/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 21, 2008 3:51pm]
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