The hybrid SUV swung around over the dirt divide of El Dorado Hills Boulevard, changing direction. The radar had pinged 65 in a 50 zone. The acceleration was gunned, the engine roaring — and then suddenly braking. Red light. But the target — a white Maserati still bearing Niello dealership plates — was directly in front. As soon as the light changed to green, the lights on the top of the SUV turned a flashing red.
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In all, it was a fairly average pullover for CHP Officer Quinn Cuthbertson. He ended up giving a warning for speeding, but ticketed the driver for not having a front license plate — a $25 ticket that could turn into $500 if it is not taken care of.
The typical shift for a CHP officer begins with a briefing, Cuthbertson said. They then grab a “go-bag,” a bag filled with forms, ticket books and other supplies, and head to their car — a patrol cruiser or SUV. They pop open the trunk to make sure everything is secure — in the case of the SUV, the flares, spike strip, jumper cables, marking paint cones and more. They double-check the electronics, the lights and sirens. They check the tires. Finally, they check the radar using tuning forks attuned to frequencies mimicking 25 and 40 mph. If anything is wrong, they either write up a report for the mechanics to check out or turn the car in and take another one — CHP officers are usually not assigned to a specific vehicle in the long term.
If everything checks out, they log in to the computer — Cuthbertson’s call sign was 44-D(avid)4, with the 44 signifying an officer from the Placerville-area office. The computer accepts both touchscreen, keyboard and hand-control inputs and controls everything from the radar to the radio, lights and the sirens. He can write reports, log incidents and see if there are any incidents that require a unit to respond. There were no incidents, so he went out on patrol.
Oh his way to patrol El Dorado Hills, he came upon a pickup truck hauling a golf cart on a trailer. The trailer had a flat tire. After he and another responding unit ensured the man was in no danger and did not require further help, he was off on patrol again.
“Speed, unsafe lane changes, registration,” is what he is looking for, he said. “Everything under the sun. You never know what you are going to find.” And they find a lot — the CHP has more arrests than any other state agency. An officer can see anywhere from zero to 50 violations in a day, depending on where they are assigned to and what specific duties they have, he said.
Just before the Latrobe Road exit, Cuthbertson pulled over a woman driving a black Jeep. “She’s on her cell phone,” he said, pointing as he pulled behind her and activated the flashing lights. After running her license and finding a clean record, he let her off with a warning.
“I do my best to educate them, tell them why I stopped them, the hazards and the consequences of what they are doing,” he said. In this case, distracted driving, especially while on a cell phone, divides attention and can be even more dangerous than driving while under the influence, he said. “If they’re on a cell phone, they might not see a police officer. If they can’t see that, what about a (traffic) light? A child playing with a ball?”
Cuthbertson headed back up the hill to Placerville for a meeting. On the way, he pulled over another car displaying registration tags that expired in July 2012. A simple no-cost fix-it ticket was issued, as the DMV showed that the driver was in process of trying to fix it already.
All in all, a fairly boring patrol. “What’s normal for me is an exciting day for a normal person,” he said of being on patrol. “What’s exciting for me is ‘Oh my god, I almost died.'”
In that line of thinking, the most exciting thing to happen to Cuthbertson was when he worked out of Los Angeles. A car hit him and then his squad car. He was able to walk, so he went to check on the driver. The driver didn’t speak English, and as he was reaching in to turn off the engine, “the driver gunned it. I still had my hand on the wheel, so I could kind of control it. He stopped before we slammed into a cliff face.” In all, Cuthbertson was dragged a few hundred feet.
But Cuthbertson continued with the job; one where high-speed pursuits and drunk drivers are not all that uncommon.
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or [email protected] Follow @CMayerMtDemo.