- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2007

It’s dark and lonely at 2:25 a.m. on I-270 near Germantown as Maryland State Police Trooper Corey S. Steffy pulls a car over on suspicion that the driver might be intoxicated.

Trooper Steffy is not tall, but he’s imposing in his dark uniform and straw uniform Stetson.

Traffic is not heavy at this time of night in the middle of the week — a few cars pass and the occasional tractor-trailer lumbers by. The flashing blue lights of the unmarked Crown Victoria, its headlights and those of the stopped car provide most of the light.

One week a month, Trooper Steffy, inhabits this half-lit world of bleary-eyed night-shift workers returning home, revelers on their way back from late-night celebrations and truckers and tourists passing through.

This night he spends most of the first half of his shift patrolling the Beltway and Interstate 270 between the Clara Barton Parkway and New Hampshire Avenue. Other nights also he spends time by the side of the road with a radar gun.

There’s an art to Trooper Steffy’s patrolling. He watches the traffic for speeders and things such as missing tail lights or weaving drivers. As he drives, he keeps one eye on the radar monitor that shows the speed of surrounding cars and picks random tags to check through the laptop next to him, which is linked to the FBI’s crime database. He’s also watching for accidents, deserted cars or anything else that might require action or attention.

Cruising along the road at about 80 mph, Trooper Steffy doesn’t wander aimlessly waiting for an obvious suspect. He moves in on a group of cars, checks a few tags and scans them for anything amiss, like a weaving car, before moving on. You can almost hear the surrounding drivers — as they slowed to a studied legal speed — breathe a sigh of relief as he pulls away.

On this night he makes several stops, including stops for speeding and missing lights and one to check out a deserted car. The drill is the same. He radios information on the car back to headquarters and checks out the driver’s license. Aside from the deserted car, in each case he issues a ticket or warning to the driver.

Speeders and the like are one group of targets for Trooper Steffy and his comrades out of the Rockville Barrack, while bigger fish, such as drunken drivers and those with drugs, are the second group, but the two are linked. A stop for a minor violation can lead to arrest on a bigger charge.

None of those stopped on this night are drunk or have drugs, but that’s not always the case.

Last year, working a week of night shifts each month, Trooper Steffy arrested 50 intoxicated drivers. Sometimes they realize they made a mistake as soon as they are arrested and probably won’t do it again. Some don’t, according to Trooper Steffy, who was an Army police officer before joining the Maryland force 2 years ago.

One night, he says, he had “the drunkest guy that I have ever seen since I’ve been doing this type of work,” who was on his fifth DUI charge.

“His fifth one, he obviously doesn’t get it,” the trooper says.

It’s not just drunks, though. Trooper Steffy also made 16 drug arrests last year, and sometimes traffic stops can lead to arrests on outstanding warrants or other charges.

One time, for example, he discovered 25 “dime bags” — holding about 1 grams of marijuana each — after stopping a car for a burned-out headlight.

“Occasionally we get a domestic disturbance out here on the road — a couple fighting, driving down the road, and they’ll pull over and duke it out on the shoulder,” he says.

Trooper Steffy is not enthusiastic about high-speed chases.

He recounts participating in one for most of the length of I-270 in Montgomery County at up to about 130 mph.

“Don’t get me wrong, chases are terrifying,” he says.

This night is not frightening, though, at least so far.

Trooper Steffy concludes that the driver in his I-270 stop is “fine.”

He stows his Stetson, straps himself back between the radar and the laptop, and pulls back onto the road to resume his nocturnal prowl.

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