New CHP officer embraces change of pace

Dan McDonald
Plumas County’s newest CHP officer, Reid Mason, right, is flanked by Quincy Area Commander Bruce Carpenter. Mason, who transferred from South Los Angeles, will be working in the Portola Resident Post.  Photo by Dan McDonald

  Reid Mason says he spends a lot of time admiring his neighbors’ wood piles. He can’t help it.

  “Everyone has wood envy around here,” Mason said with a smile. “You see somebody’s stack and you go ‘oh man, he’s ready for winter.’

  “And then you see my stack and you say ‘oh, he’s got a ways to go.’ So wood envy is a big thing I see in this county. It’s really a funny thing. But we are into it.”

  Mason is embracing his new rural life after living the past four years in South Los Angeles. He said he is excited to get back into fishing, hunting, skiing and snowboarding — the things he did when he was stationed in Montana with the U.S. Air Force.

  But, most of all, he said he wants to be part of a community.

  “I wanted a change, and this is about as big a change of life as you can get,” said the 29-year-old California Highway Patrol officer.

  So when Mason had a chance to move his young family — wife Amy and young son Liam — out of LA, he jumped at the opportunity.

  “I wanted to get out of there. Absolutely,” Mason said. “I have a 2-year-old son. And I was looking for a change in lifestyle — a slowdown in life.”

  Mason hasn’t wasted a second in beginning his new life in Plumas County. He and Amy purchased a house in Portola before they officially transferred.

  He is getting to know his neighbors, cutting wood and learning all the roads that he will be patrolling from his CHP resident post in Portola.

  The San Luis Obispo native has been on the new job for just a couple weeks. Mason will spend the first month based in the Quincy office as he gets familiar with the area. On Dec. 1, he will work out of the Portola post.

  Mason is replacing Officer Robert Marshal, who transferred to the Dublin area. Although Mason is new to the county, he is a four-year CHP veteran. He said his four years patrolling the highways in Los Angeles are worth about 20 years of experience. “They say one year in South LA is like five years anywhere else,” he said.

  “I understand this isn’t South LA. I’m completely fine with that,” Mason said. “And 31 million cars in one county is too many.

  “I’ve been in enough pursuits on the news. I’ve been on enough high-speed chases,” he said. “At the end of those, you kind of think, ‘Wow, I was lucky to get out of there safely.’

  “If I never have to do that again, I’m OK with that. Because, I do want to go home to my family too.”

  Mason’s very first day as a CHP officer in LA served as a prime example of the dangers he faced.

  He responded to a shootout between gang members who were in two cars traveling side by side on the 710 freeway.

  “They were just shooting each other back and forth, going down the freeway about 35 miles per hour,” Mason recalled.

  As Mason maneuvered his patrol car behind the gang cars, one of shooters’ cars crashed as the other sped off down the freeway.

  When Mason stopped near the crashed vehicle, a man got out of the car and began to raise his gun toward Mason.

  “My very first day on the job and I had to draw my gun,” Mason said. “He was raising his gun at us and just before we had to shoot him, he succumbed to his injuries. It turned out he was already shot up pretty bad from the people in the other car. But we were seconds from being the ones to have to end his life.”

  Mason said his LA experience won’t necessarily apply in Plumas County. “But at least I will be prepared,” he said.

  “I learned a lot working there. But there are some things in South LA that just don’t apply here. ... There is a lack of community involvement there,” Mason said. “You will never see those people again in South LA. Not that we could be rude to them or anything, but there’s no expectation that we have to live with them.”

  When asked if he would miss the adrenaline rush that comes with patrolling one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, Mason said “absolutely not.” He said he doesn’t expect to become bored.

  “That’s the question that everybody asks — my family, other officers — they say, ‘You will be so bored you will be back in two years,’” Mason said. “I don’t think so. When I came on here, I was looking for more of a place where I could be part of a community. I’ve always wanted to be more involved than someone who just writes a ticket and then you go on your way.”

  Instead of high-speed chases, Mason said he realizes he will be spending more time in Plumas County helping stranded motorists and answering life-alert calls, house fire calls or domestic violence calls. He rarely handled those kinds of calls in the big city.

  He said one thing that doesn’t change is his commitment to keep drunk drivers off the road.

  “I’ve been briefed on the issues that have been going on with the community here (concerning complaints about the CHP’s DUI enforcement),” Mason said. “But people have to understand, if we see something that we have to correct, we will correct it. That is what we get paid for.

  “I imagine people hear I’m moving here from South LA and they will think that I’m just another hot-head officer who is too eager,” Mason said. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here just to be a part of the community, to help with the chain service and those winter accidents that are going to happen.”

  Mason said he had his first winter-driving experience while on patrol about two weeks ago near Lee Summit on Highway 70. It was a 5:45 a.m. snowstorm that created white-out conditions. He said he came up on a bunch of cars that were stopped in the road.

  “There were six or seven cars stopped because the visibility was just zero. And the snow was really coming down,” Mason said. “I realized they were waiting on somebody to help them. And I’m just in my Crown Victoria. So I turned my lights on, went around to the front, and they all started to follow me. They followed me up and over the summit.

  “I thought, ‘Man, I don’t know what I’m doin’ either ... I don’t have a plow,’” he said. “But these people just wanted someone to help. So you realize, you are the man to help.

  “We went about two miles per hour up and over the summit. And eventually Caltrans was coming the other way and I was able to get a hold of him to flip around and come and help us out and get a plow down.”

  Two miles per hour in the snow is a far cry from a 100-mile-per-hour car chase. But that slower speed is just fine by Mason. He said he’s ready for a slower pace and a chance to feel at home.

  So far, the community has been doing its part to make Mason and his family feel welcome.

  “Everyone has been great. People I don’t even know wave at me on the street,” Mason said. “Everybody is really eager to help us get ready for winter and adapt to the lifestyle. They are all asking, ‘How’s your wood pile goin’?’”

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