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What is it? That was the topic of conversation when CHP Officer Reese McAllister stopped a truck hauling a mysterious load. It wasn’t the load, but a small wheel that was hanging down from the trailer and a taillight out that caused the stop. Photo by Victoria Metcalf

Riding along with the CHP

Snow & St. Pat’s Day

“Whoa! Did you see that?”

It was a line I would hear a few more times during an afternoon and evening ride along with California Highway Patrol Officer Reese McAllister.

It was St. Patrick’s Day. It was snowing hard. And it was moving into the first real week of cautions put in place to help protect the public from contracting corona virus, more specifically known as COVID-19.

“Today, I’m kind of the middle unit,” McAllister said as we got into his black and white unit.

While he did yet more mandatory preparations before even backing the running unit out of its space behind the fence at the Quincy CHP headquarters, I buckled my seatbelt and tried to find a place for my camera. My little word processor would rest on my lap handy for note taking.

The computer system arranged in the center where the officer can easily access it takes up a lot of space. While this was one of the larger CHP vehicles, things are tight inside.

In my search for a spot for my camera, that left the area near my feet, which isn’t convenient for quick photo opportunities, or the area I finally found at the base of the computer setup, nearer to the backseat.

Three CHP units were on for the day — St. Patrick’s Day. I thought it was something new as a way to prevent those celebrating the occasion with too much to drink from getting into trouble behind the wheel, and others on the roadways safer.

After looking up some information on the internet (how did we ever exist without it?), it does seem this is nothing new.

“St. Patrick’s Day celebrations can often result in a highway tragedy,” said CHP Commissioner Warren Stanley prior to what usually is a big event.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, March 17 is “one of the deadliest holidays for drunk driving and alcohol-involved crashes. Last year on that day in California, seven people were killed and 116 others were injured in collisions caused by driving under the influence.”

It was also a very busy period for the CHP statewide as officers logged 219 arrests for DUI alone on that day.

Given the snow storm in its fourth-day, and spirits dampened down by precautions centered around COVID-19, I didn’t think we’d run into too many people waving and wearing the green.

Checking out the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office official crime reports following St. Patrick’s day I don’t remember any alcohol-related arrests, not just in Quincy, but anywhere within the Quincy Area CHP’s jurisdiction (Lake Almanor/Chester area excluded).

But as McAllister finished his routine check list, then reprogrammed the computer inside his unit because another officer had borrowed it, he was finally ready to sign in with CHP dispatch. The code he gave would crop up later in a discussion over dinner.

Going on a ride along, whether it’s with the CHP or the sheriff’s office, is one of the more exciting things I do on my job. I can usually count on going fast somewhere, after someone who’s done something the officer didn’t like or to an incident. If I’m remembering correctly I think my first experience with skillful driving and speed was when officer James Stowe first came on the force. When he punched the gas on a straightaway, I can still remember the force pushing me back against the seat, the speedometer read 100 mph in nothing flat and the landscape went flying by.

Don’t try this at home kids, or anywhere else, but when I’m with a trained driver, going fast is so exciting.

And I wasn’t disappointed with McAllister this time around either.

It was closer to 3 p.m. as we left headquarters and McAllister turned right onto Highway 70/East Main Street.

Shifts had gotten a little messed up, he explained. He’s been working graveyard since last November — by choice. In fact, he’d gotten home at 5 a.m., slept some and was back to work at 1:30 p.m. preparing for the ride along.

COVID-19 and the CHP

The “CHP plays a major role in the state in response to a public health concern due to our statewide law enforcement presence, public safety mission, and pre-existing memorandum of understanding with the California Department of Public Health,” said CHP Commander, Lt. Erik Egide before the ride along began.

One of the CHP’s objectives is to provide law enforcement and security services in support of public health and emergency medical services activities by providing site and escort security or other duties as requested by state emergency operations officials, Egide explained.

“Locally, we have implemented proactive cleaning measures for our personnel and facilities. Also, we continue to educate on good preventative measures to reduce exposure.

The dedicated officers of Quincy CHP continue to perform their patrolling and safety functions as usual,” Egide said about what he and officers were required to do.Office hours in Quincy and Portola remain the same, but Egide encouraged the public to call the office rather than dropping in for non-emergency situations. These include vehicle numbers or VINs, collision reports and other general questions.

“We remain committed to providing our high level of service and are focused on maintaining public safety during this trying time,” Egide concluded.

While McAllister carried out any number of his added safety requirements before I arrived, he was armed with a bottle of hand sanitizer that he seemed to use regularly.

So how is McAllister or other officers exposed? Throughout his shift he is coming close to people in and out of vehicles. He and others touch vehicles as they talk to drivers, assist with something, even as he’s passing a warning or ticket through the passenger window, he’s at some level of risk.

It’s a risk that McAllister isn’t too concerned about. He’s one of the ones that believes there’s a lot of shouting and precautions for something that isn’t that bad. That said, he’s still following orders and procedures.

Snowstorm

At some point during the ride along, McAllister said that he was sure relieved the roads were finally cleared.

Although he’s equipped with a large SUV 4-wheel or all-wheel drive, when the roads are snowy and icy everything is slow, more difficult to navigate and riskier.

But McAllister has had experience on Plumas County’s roads under a wide variety of conditions. With 13 years experience here, and another five years elsewhere he’s experienced many different road conditions to consider.

But today, although the snow was still steadily falling, McAllister takes his unit east. He turns around at Highway 89 as it heads toward Blairsden and Graeagle.

But it isn’t long before he sees something that concerns him — a small wheel attached under a trailer that’s hauling something that could actually be several things.

Turning around in the roadway, McAllister heads back east and comes up behind a dark colored truck.

“See that wheel?” he asks as he leans forward to examine it. “No, it isn’t hitting the pavement.” Just then the road dips and climbs and the mysterious wheel under the odd cargo is once again hitting the road.

“Yep, yep. And that back taillight is out also,” he indicated the right-hand light on the truck.

We discuss what the man’s hauling as we follow the truck to a safe location to stop.

I think it looks like a swamp boat. “Do you think he thinks this is Florida?”

McAllister thinks the rounded cage-like thing is some sort of flying contraption. It isn’t until he’s helped the man get the little wheel pulled up into a safe position and a fix-it ticket written for the light, that he finally tells me what the thing is.

McAllister said that when he was with the man he was also checking on the equipment on the trailer. He couldn’t see a seat or anyway to steer it, so finally he just asked.

It turns out the man deals with a large leaf and yard debris situation. When it’s time to burn the stuff, the driver said it used to take five days for everything to burn. The giant fan device that he had specially made by a company that makes swamp boats creates enough breeze so that autumn vegetation burns in one day — less than half the time it took the old way.

That gives us yet something else to discuss and marvel about as the miles slide by and we’re once again on Highway 70 driving west.

We don’t get all that far before the officer is making a right onto a side road. Soon we see a vehicle on the opposite side of the road facing our direction. It’s right where McAllister wanted to stop to refill his water bottle.

I watch with interest as McAllister hikes over the snow berm and almost disappears down next to this concrete bunker-like housing.

He says something about getting his water from an overflow source for some sort of water system.

But I learn all of this after he’s checked on the guy changing into different clothing at his vehicle. McAllister said the man didn’t think his mother would appreciate it at her house, so he chose a quiet spot on a seldom-used roadway before heading back to Reno.

So as he prepares to drive on he’s explaining about the man and then singing the praises of the cold-water source he’s found. McAllister said he’s been drinking water from this site for years and has never had any trouble with it.

As we head down this side road we pass the Mt. Tomba Inn. I feel a little foolish right after I exclaim, “Now I know where we are!” Some big revelation, I know.

As we near the end of the road and notice someone plowing out a narrow driveway, McAllister launches into another story. It seems that the mother of his best friend through his childhood ended up living in the house. That’s quite a coincidence since McAllister grew up in the Burney area.

Back in Quincy, we end up going fast over the top of Cemetery Hill. We were traveling east when his radar told him a smaller car was traveling west at 61 mph in a 40 mph zone.

He follows along behind the vehicle. When the driver attempts to make a stop just along the snow-packed edge, McAllister uses his units PA system to tell her to move along to a better location that’s more out of passing traffic.

McAllister writes out something after having talked to the driver, hands it to her and we’re off again.

It’s as we’re heading east again back up Highway 70 in the Indian Falls area that McAllister shouts, “Did you see that?”

I did this time. Coming right toward us, behind another vehicle, was a smaller, light-colored car that had only half of its windshield cleared of snow.

A little later I said it looked like the person had put a rug over the driver side part of the windshield and pulled if off when he wanted to drive somewhere. The division between the two areas looked that perfect.

Anyway, McAllister wasn’t going to let the driver get away with a windshield half covered with snow.

He turned around quickly in the roadway, I think not far behind a driveway to what’s known as Goat Ranch. And we flew down the winding road. This is when an experienced driver versus someone just driving too fast comes into play. I didn’t glance over at the speedometer this time, I was just enjoying the experience.

As we approached the Greenville Wye, McAllister voiced what I was thinking, “Which way did he go?” We went right and took Highway 89, but it wasn’t long before we realized that the other driver had taken the canyon road. It was disappointing, but McAllister said there comes a point when catching the person isn’t worth the potential risks.

Rats! But I was still delighted with the sensation of going fast and not being the least afraid. “That made me feel young again,” I told him as we headed back toward Quincy.

At some point as the day wore on, snow continued to fall and the sky took on the look it gets at the edge of night, I heard again, “Did you see that?”

I didn’t. I was busy watching a large semi move along Main Street just before CHP headquarters. Soon we were following a large truck with the driver and a passenger inside.

McAllister approached the truck just across from Safeway. After talking to the driver, he returned to the unit.

He said the driver explained that he “was a little too quick on the throttle.”

McAllister said that he saw the driver head across one of the snow berms in the center lane. He seemed to hit it with enough force that it fishtailed and spun it around nearly 360 degrees. “That’s how you hit parked cars and stuff,” McAllister said, clearly not impressed with the stunt.

As 8:30 p.m. approached I said it was probably time that McAllister drop me off at my car parked in front of headquarters. But as we approached it he was right in the middle of one of his stories and I had enough I wanted to contribute that I encouraged another run through town.

It wasn’t until a little later that he pulled in and dropped me off. Not the most spectacular ride along, but still up there with one of the most enjoyable.

With the snow, the virus and St. Patrick’s Day all rolled into one, who knew what could have happened. Not much, but enough.

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