It’s going to be a blue fall in York County as several public safety agencies join forces against what have become deadly roads in the area.
“This is the warning to please heed,” Sheriff Kevin Tolson said Wednesday at Moss Justice Center in York. “You’re going to see more blue lights. You’re going to see more blue copies of tickets being issued.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Tolson joined South Carolina Highway Patrol officers and 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett to announce new patrols coming to York County. It’s a coordinated response to the high number of traffic fatalities so far this year.
“We have had an inordinate number of fatalities on the roads of York County this year,” Brackett said. “We are at 42 through the end of September. If this pace continues, we are going to be close to doubling the number of fatalities we had over last year.”
Part of the issue is major population growth. There are more cars on local roads than ever.
“Most people are law-abiding citizens,” Brackett said. “Most people want to get where they’re going. They want to get there by following the rules, following the laws, and they want to arrive safely.”
Yet there are other causes enforcement agencies can target.
“There is a small percentage of the population that thinks the rules don’t apply to them, and they will not stop until they see blue lights in their rear view on a regular basis,” Brackett said.
Brackett said Wednesday money will come from a traffic education and safety program (attended when drivers get tickets for minor offenses), money seized from drug dealers and other sources to pay for overtime for South Carolina Highway Patrol officers coming from neighboring counties. Brackett and others will look to Columbia for long-term funding for more officers.
“We are going to fund this as long as it takes to get people’s attention,” Brackett said.
Tolson announced a separate addition. Two weeks ago his agency received a federal grant to cover two officer positions solely for traffic enforcement, which usually falls to S.C. Highway Patrol.
“You will see more deputies out there patrolling, specifically for traffic enforcement,” Tolson said.
Tolson offered thanks for Brackett’s help.
“I don’t know anywhere in the state, maybe even in the country, where a prosecutor gets involved in traffic enforcement to the extent that Solicitor Brackett has offered the resources that are going to be needed here to slow people down and make people safer,” Tolson said.
Brackett said road safety has become a major issue throughout the public safety community. His agency may be best known for prosecuting murders or other major crimes, but it also handles drunk driving and other road cases.
“Public safety is a core function of government,” Brackett said. “We have to make sure that people are safe, not just in their homes but on the roads. What’s killing people right now is speed and distracted driving, and we need more resources to focus on that.”
Last month, highway patrol recognized the same safety issues on several major York County roads. Officers arrived from other parts of the state. They’ll be here at least through October, and could stay longer.
“We’ve got to find a way to curtail the number of people that are dying in car crashes, and if we have to do it through additional or aggressive enforcement, that’s what we’re going to do,” said Master Trooper Gary Miller said Wednesday.
Miller said in two weeks, the additional officers in York County made 1,500 stops.
“Right at 1,000 more citations have been written just within the last two weeks,” he said. “The guys are out there, they’re working. We’re trying our best to make sure people are within compliance of the law.”
Brackett said an area the size of York County should have 44 patrol officers. There are less than 20 here without the extra help. Brackett wants lawmakers in Columbia to see what’s happening come budget time, when they could allot more money.
“We are deadly serious about it because it’s a deadly issue,” Brackett said.
Brackett called the number of area fatalities unacceptable. He’s hopeful the overtime pay drawing in patrol officers on their days off will help. He doesn’t yet know how many officers it may be.
“They will be troopers in trooper cars patrolling, just like they normally do when they’re on a regular shift,” Brackett said. “They will be working overtime. And we are going to flood the roads to the greatest extent possible with as many troopers and law enforcement officers as we possibly can.”
‘Problem areas everywhere’
While the ongoing highway patrol blitz targets areas known for crashes — I-77, S.C. 5, S.C. 49 — Tolson said the new officers from his grant would cover the whole county.
“There are problem areas everywhere,” he said.
The grant is given annually, but it’s renewable each year.
Officers from multiple agencies say they aren’t interested in writing tickets just to write them. But if tickets slow drivers and make roads safer, they’ll write plenty.
“Slow down,” Tolson said. “Pay attention. Please don’t text and drive, and then be aware of your surroundings.”