SANDUSKY, Ohio (AP) - The hockey mom from Philadelphia hit 82 mph and never saw the silver patrol car in the median of the Ohio Turnpike.
When she finally realized her fate and hit the brakes, Trooper John Williams already had pulled out. He hit the accelerator to catch up to her and switched on his blue flashing lights.
Minutes later, the woman appeared to seethe as Williams, ever polite, handed her the speeding ticket and wished her a safe trip.
The officer went on to make 11 stops in the next eight hours. For Williams, 39, that has become a typical day: He has written more tickets than any trooper in Ohio from 2010 through 2014, the most recent years available, according to a Plain Dealer analysis of Ohio State Highway Patrol tickets. He averaged nearly 2,000 tickets a year during that span.
But Williams is far from a rigid, citation-writing machine. His empathy for drivers is matched by his attention to detail and concern for roadway safety. He has doled out warnings, calmed agitated motorists and offered directions to the misguided. In short, he does far more than send speeding drivers to court.
Williams and a handful of troopers work from a turnpike post in Milan, near Sandusky. They cover 80 miles from Lorain County to Ottawa County. In the summer, with Cedar Point and the Lake Erie islands attracting visitors, the turnpike is the busiest roadway in the state. It also is the most heavily ticketed, the analysis shows.
Troopers can patrol all of Ohio’s roads, but they focus on state routes, the interstates and the turnpike. Unlike Williams and his colleagues who patrol the turnpike, most troopers are scattered across the state, working at county posts and running between traffic stops and crashes. They also help local authorities with investigations.
Williams has done some of that, too. He is a 15-year veteran who has investigated accidents, arrested drunken drivers and found his share of illegal drugs in drivers’ cars. But he has focused on speeding drivers on the turnpike.
“I don’t pay attention to (statistics),” Williams said. “I come out here to enforce traffic laws and to, hopefully, change drivers’ behaviors. Excessive speed is a huge problem.
“For me to work the interstate and not write tickets would be wrong. My chances to enforce traffic laws here are much greater than someone who is working in a county post.”
And that leads to a question he hears often: Do troopers face a quota?
“There has never been a quota,” Williams said. State troopers’ salaries are paid with driver registration fees and taxes, not fines from tickets.
The patrol has 1,600 officers, though many, such as crash reconstructionists, investigators and command officials, do not patrol roads. In the five-year span that the newspaper examined, troopers wrote an average of 540,000 tickets a year.
At 6:17 a.m. on the coldest day of January, Williams began his day by checking and calibrating his TruSpeed laser gun. When it failed him, he grabbed a new one. He then spent just as much time, nearly 15 minutes, checking the new device.
With a sugar-free Monster energy drink and the laser gun at his side, Williams wheeled his patrol car onto the turnpike for his day shift.
He initially sought broken-down cars and trucks in the 3-degree weather. Finding none, he stopped in a median and pointed the laser gun at oncoming traffic and focused its beam on the front license plates of cars and trucks.
Within minutes, he noticed a white Honda.
A woman headed to work passed a semitrailer going 82 mph. The turnpike’s speed limit is 70 mph. Williams wrote and printed out the ticket on a patrol-issued laptop, which troopers have in their Chargers. He thanked her for her time and urged her to be safe.
She seemed too flustered to notice.
Within the hour, he pulled over the Philadelphia mother in an SUV that had hockey team stickers on its back windows. He also stopped a father driving his daughter to college. Later, he stopped an older woman from Illinois going 84 mph.
She was more concerned with Williams’ health than her ticket. She feared he would get sick because he was working in such cold temperatures. The woman appeared to drive away somewhat upbeat, though still worried.
“When I went to the (state patrol) academy, instructors said we would get ‘thank yous’ after traffic stops,” Williams said. “I thought, ‘What? You just gave a person a ticket and then he or she thanks you?’ But it happens a lot.”
Others aren’t as cheerful.
Williams said he stopped a car recently with a set of parents and two children. The children, in the back seats, ripped Williams for what he did, while the parents sat silent.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “But you can’t take anything personally.”
Later in the day, he stopped his patrol car along a westbound emergency lane and looked at a memorial built to honor Robert Perez, a fellow trooper at the Milan post who was killed in 2000. Perez’s cruiser was rammed from behind as he sat in it on the berm finishing paperwork after a stop.
He talked about Perez and the risks troopers face. The most dangerous involved approaching cars. On this day, as he does regularly, Williams headed to the passenger side of cars and trucks to avoid passing traffic. He then checked the number of people inside and what they were doing.
“I’ve seen too many bad movies,” he said. “We don’t know whom we’re stopping. We don’t know what’s going on in the car. So we have to be careful.”
Between stops, he bought a sandwich at a Subway shop off the turnpike and stopped briefly at the Milan post. He ate the sandwich and munched potato chips among colleagues while talking proudly about his two young children. Within minutes, he was back on the road.
His stops included several drivers who gave him a litany of excuses. They said there is a lack of posted signs about speed limits, that they were unfamiliar with Ohio laws, that they weren’t paying attention to how fast they were driving.
“I’ve heard them all,” he said.
As the temperature crawled above 5 degrees, Williams struggled to stay warm. A young woman whom he ticketed for going 82 mph wanted to know where she could buy some water.
The bottles that she had in the trunk were frozen. He answered several questions about the ticket, the roadway and area restaurants. He shivered as he jumped back in his patrol car.
“Is it summer yet?” he said. He was looking for speeding cars before he finished the question.
Information from: The Plain Dealer, https://www.cleveland.com
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