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Gunning for traffic

POSTED: August 15, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Photo by Pat Donahue/

Rincon Police Officer Charles Loetscher keeps an eye on traffic, with radar gun in hand, along Lisa Street. Rincon police have stepped up traffic enforcement across the city.

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Traffic accidents in Rincon have decreased, and the Rincon Police Department has stepped up its traffic enforcement.

Traffic accidents fell from 16 in May to nine in June, according to Rincon Police Chief Michael Berry. Rincon officers wrote 170 citations in May and 521 in June.

“We have been increasing our effort in traffic enforcement,” Berry said. “We’re hoping to get the word out that Rincon is not the place to speed.”

Rincon Police started their step-up on traffic enforcement in May, targeting Highway 21 and Fort Howard Road. Officers Scott Collins and Charles Loetscher began to address the issue during the daytime and early evening hours.

And residents and offenders alike have been telling Rincon Police how glad they are for the effort.

“Everybody seems to be pretty positive,” Berry said. “They’ve been saying, ‘It’s about time.’”

Said Loetscher: “I’ve had residents come out and thank me for running radar.”

He said he was concerned about the post July 4th parade crowd, with a number of people still on the sidewalk and “people just flying by.”

Speed limits on Highway 21 drop from 45 mph to 35 mph for a stretch from near city hall to the north side of the railroad viaduct. Berry said just because the road is four lanes wide doesn’t give drivers license to continue to drive at 45 mph or higher.

“You still have businesses right up against the roadway,” he said. “As it narrows down toward 4th Street, it’s even more dangerous to be driving fast. We’re really trying to slow them down.”

Rincon officers also have kept an eye on that stretch of Highway 21 near First Baptist Church of Rincon and Rincon Elementary School during summer — the camps and other daytime activities for school-age children has kept it busy.

The police also hopes drivers continue to abide by the speed and traffic laws with the advent of the 2008-09 school year.

“Now they’re slowing down,” Berry said. “It’s almost a habit now.”

As they pull violators over and as they hear their stories in municipal court, Rincon authorities notice how often cell phones are a culprit in a driver’s transgression.

The offenses include speeding, judged by radar guns, reckless driving and running stop signs and red lights.

“Cell phones are a big excuse in court,” Berry said. “Even at the last court date, they said they just weren’t paying attention (to the road).”

Loetscher said the 911 dispatchers have been getting calls from drivers on their cell phones warning about a possible drunk driver because of erratic driving. What officers are finding isn’t a driver behind the wheel who’s had one or more too many.

“They are actually texting someone,” he said, as drivers send text messages via their cell phone while driving.

There were more than 100 people with citations in Rincon Municipal Court earlier this month, according to Berry.

“Our judge has been very helpful in letting people know how serious this is,” he said.

Nearly 90 percent of the violations have been written for personally-owned vehicles, compared to the stream of tractor-trailers on Highway 21 through Rincon.

“Some of the trucks are not very safe and shouldn’t be traveling the highway,” Berry said. “Part of my concern is the weighted vehicles causing damage to the asphalt.”

Rincon officers also wrote 240 speeding tickets in June after issuing 76 in May. They also issued 99 seat-belt violation citations last month, and 13 involved children.

“There is zero tolerance for that,” Berry said of seat-belt violations involving children. “We don’t give any warnings for that.”

Not paying attention hasn’t been limited to drivers of personally-owned vehicles.

“We pulled over a tractor trailer for pulling out in front of us on Fort Howard Road,” Berry said. “He said, ‘I wasn’t paying attention.’ I think a lot of it is they are in a hurry.”

Such moving violations against a truck driver can affect their ability to retain a commercial driver’s license, according to Berry.

“They take it very seriously,” he said. “Our point is not to cause a problem with their livelihood. We try to provide a safe roadway inside the city limits.”

Berry would like for some of his officers to have the training to inspect the big rigs, as Port Wentworth does, to see if their loads are safe and their equipment is up to standard.

He also is preaching patience for drivers who are pulling out of a driveway or a connector onto one of the city’s main arteries. Often, he said, those drivers don’t allow the traffic heading toward them more room.

“In Georgia, if you’re driving too fast, you’re the one at fault,” the chief said. “People pulling out misjudge and think they have enough time. But the other driver is going too fast.”

Where the Rincon police is seeing the most repeat offenders is in seat belt violations, even among those with children in their vehicle. Some violators have had their children secured snugly in a car seat, but the car seat itself is not strapped in.

“We get quite a few repeat offenders with seat belts,” Loetscher said.

Said Berry of the additional tickets: “It starts getting more expensive. The judge tends not to be as lenient with occupant protection.”

A grandmother even came to the police department last weekend for help installing a car seat for her 3-year-old grandchild, Berry said.

Loetscher said most of the speeding takes place just before lunchtime. There isn’t as much speeding in the morning rush hour because the amount of traffic on the road makes it difficult to speed.

“Tractor-trailers are pretty much all day,” he said.

Berry is also worried that the city’s Veterans Park at Highway 21 and 17th Street could fall victim to a wayward driver crashing through the chain link fence. The city’s public works department is working to set up barriers in front of it, he said.

He also has a message for drivers in or going through Rincon.

“We’re going to be out there, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Berry said.

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