Wednesday, April 23, 2014

CHP patrol: Where exciting is normal and tickets are common

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CHP OFFICER QUINN CUTHBERTSON lets a woman off with a warning for talking on her cellular phone while driving, educating her on the possible consequences of distracted driving. Democrat photo by Cole Mayer

From page A1 | June 24, 2013 | 16 Comments

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.

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 Follow @CMayerMtDemo. 


Discussion | 16 comments

  • JPJune 24, 2013 - 9:21 pm

    Absolute garbage journalism . . .

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  • Amber WillitsJune 25, 2013 - 9:18 am

    what happens if ur car never came with a front plate when u bought it.

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  • cookie65June 25, 2013 - 3:51 pm

    A front license plate is just another way for California to steal money from the citizens.

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  • cookie65June 25, 2013 - 4:50 pm

    Front license plates are just another way for the state to confiscate money from law abiding tax paying citizens. We have a lot of welfare and public sector to pay for.

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  • James E.June 25, 2013 - 5:10 pm

    COOKIE IS BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • James E.June 25, 2013 - 5:10 pm

    I bet it was my song that did it.

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  • Phil VeerkampJune 25, 2013 - 5:30 pm

    James, I shot the moon. LINK - SUPERMOON Cookie came home. Snap!!!

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  • Fran DuChampJune 25, 2013 - 6:11 pm

    James it was a nice song. Cookie--welcome back.

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  • Phil VeerkampJune 25, 2013 - 6:14 pm

    With Fran and Cookie the tree house is almost complete!!

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  • Hank WhiteJune 25, 2013 - 6:28 pm

    That qualifies as a damn story? Man you are freaking lazy.

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  • Fran DuChampJune 25, 2013 - 6:29 pm


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  • oh brotherJune 25, 2013 - 6:40 pm

    The chp needs to be on highway 50 from Pollock pines to placerville instead of driving around Pollock pines

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  • DeeDeeJune 25, 2013 - 8:39 pm

    I wish the CHP would get on Highway 50. I feel I am all alone out there with all the high speed, road rage, no turn signals, unsafe passing, trucks and vehicles with trailers going way over 55 and much more. When I get into Pollock PInes the CHP are sitting at Crystal View or Safeway parking lots or stopping people on Pony Express Trail handing out fix it tickets. Please get the California HIGHWAY Patrol back out on the highway. If its revenue they are looking for if they really pay attention, they will make tons on Highway 50.

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  • Fran DuChampJune 25, 2013 - 9:13 pm

    Well that you have insulted the CHP--whats next. i have not had the same problems as you on our Hwy...and I know everyone is entitled to lunch. Many times the CHP are doing paper work ((Crystal View is also an impound station)--that is also part of their job. I know many of them--from town--they take their job seriously. Many of the accidents on Hwy 50 are brought into our town to go to the Crystal View Station. It has also been a place for relatives to come get survivors of accidents...or where the owners of Crystal view and the employees help those stranded because of car problems--that the CHP has been kind enough to bring to safety.

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  • cookie65June 26, 2013 - 6:09 am

    What was your song James? This tree house is full of nuts. Which reminds me, a couple of days ago I watched a grey squirrel build a nest in an oak tree in my back yard. It doesn't matter how many times you have seen it before it never gets old. Totally amazing. I was thinking of how much the obama voters could learn from a squirrel.

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  • robertdnollJune 29, 2013 - 12:43 am

    CHP,the best police force on the planet

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