|Tropical Storm Debby and Traffic Enforcement-Wakulla Times Aug. 2012|
TROPICAL STORM DEBBY VISITS WAKULLA & NEW TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT GRANT
I had originally planned to write about a Traffic Enforcement Grant that the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office has received. I still plan to write about it but a tropical storm system named Debby altered my plans as the month of June turned into July.
Wakulla County residents were gearing up for the summer heat and the Independence Day festivities when their lives were interrupted by Tropical Storm Debby on Sunday, June 24. It began to rain and it rained and rained and rained. When the rains finally stopped on Tuesday, June 26, Wakulla County had measured anywhere from 25 to 30 inches of rain in less than 72 hours.
There were rain puddles everywhere you looked and flooding was worse than anyone could remember. The Sopchoppy River banks had severe flooding and water spilled everywhere it could go to reach lower ground. There were few areas where the impacts of the tropical storm were not felt. You did not have to live along the Sopchoppy River to experience flooding as homes in Crawfordville, St. Marks, Medart, Sopchoppy, Panacea, Spring Creek, Ochlockonee Bay and other parts of the county experienced water issues. Many citizens were without power for at least a day and others were out of electricity for much longer periods of time.
The major escape routes of U.S. Highway 98 and U.S. Highway 319 experienced major flooding and travel to certain parts of the county became impossible for a period of time. Residential losses topped $9 million and infrastructure losses included damaged bridges and roads serving our citizens.
Wakulla County was the focal point of the media as national television media interviews were conducted by the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office with CNN and The Weather Channel as well as media representatives in Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Tallahassee, Dothan, Ala., Associated Press and our local media. Radio interviews were granted with CBS radio, Florida Public Radio, Tallahassee stations and radio interests in Central Florida.
The WCSO staff worked long and hard during the tropical storm, working with our public safety partners, to meet the needs of the public. Everyone in my office served either in the Emergency Management Division at the Emergency Operations Center or with road patrol deputies and others from the Criminal Investigations Division who were called into storm duty to make sure our citizens were safe.
Our Communications Division fielded a huge quantity of calls during Tropical Storm Debby. From 5 a.m. Sunday, June 24 to noon on Wednesday, June 27, the communications staff fielded 2,642 calls. During the previous seven day period the communications staff fielded 1,715 calls. They were busy which meant that everyone in the field and in the office was busy as well.
Thankfully there were no fatalities and just one firefighter was treated for dehydration helping serve our citizens. It was an outstanding effort between agencies as well as everyone had to work together for the common good. The agencies included everyone from the health department and Florida Department of Law Enforcement to Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Army National Guard.
Everyone shared resources such as boats and vehicles to make sure the citizens were safe and had food and water. Wakulla County has seen its fair share of flooding from Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 and Hurricane Dennis in 2005, but Debby topped them all.
And now it is back to my original train of thought, the traffic enforcement grant that will help the WCSO address road problems involving vehicles, not water.
We welcome our many visitors to Wakulla County, but we remind everyone to be careful on the roads. Don’t drink and drive and follow the rules of the road.
According to statistics from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV), Wakulla County ranks second highest among 26 rural counties in speed-related and motorcycle-involved fatal or injury crashes and fifth highest in the state among teenager driver fatalities and injuries from the five year period of 2006 to 2010.
Sixty percent of the Wakulla County workforce commutes to Tallahassee on a daily basis. During the summer months and holidays, an estimated 100,000 motorists, including heavy motorcycle traffic, travel to the coast and beyond using the same roadways that have difficulty handling the local traffic load.
In 2009, there were 1,362 traffic citations issued and 277 traffic crashes were worked by law enforcement. Sixty-three of the crashes involved alcohol and 245 of the crashes contained injuries. Forty-three of the alcohol related crashes resulted in injuries. There were six fatalities reported in 2009 and one was alcohol related.
In 2010, 1,367 traffic citations were issued and 242 traffic crashes were worked by law enforcement. Thirty-one of the crashes were alcohol related and 215 of the crashes contained injuries. Sixteen of the crashes were alcohol related. Four fatalities were reported and one was alcohol related.
Increased traffic enforcement presence allowed the sheriff’s office to reduce the number of crashes in 2010 as well as reduce the number of alcohol related crashes. The number of fatalities shrank during the three year study period as did the number of alcohol related crashes.
The grant will provide funding for off-duty officers to work sobriety checkpoints starting in early July and multiple DUI saturation patrols will target drunk drivers in areas where they commonly drive. All the WCSO deputies have been trained to conduct field sobriety exercises through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Deputies have found that speeding is not as big an issue on the main highways as it has become on the back roads as citizens attempt to get to their destination quicker by traveling less traveled roads. The Summer Speed and Aggressive Driving grant will target those speeders who are driving faster on lower speed roads.
With the influx of summer motorcycles, there will be extra attention paid to motorcycle riders obeying the traffic laws. Aggressive drivers who follow behind other motorists too closely and weave in and out of traffic will also be a focus.
The WCSO reminds motorists not to text message, read the newspaper, put on makeup or any other activity that will distract drivers while they operate their motor vehicles. We are hoping to have a safe and enjoyable summer while we continue to keep our traffic crashes and fatality statistics low.
A few other activities of note that occurred prior to Tropical Storm Debby and the end of the school year:
• Project Graduation at Wakulla Springs State Park was a huge success. Many members of the Wakulla High School Class of 2012 enjoyed a wonderful night at the park with their classmates away from the dangers of drinking and driving. The night before graduation was a memorable night. The sheriff’s office and public safety staff enjoyed giving the students a final party in the last days as members of the graduating class of 2012.
• Captain Tommy Martin retired from the sheriff’s office after 30 years of service. Captain Martin was honored with a ceremony at the WCSO flag pole and given a memento to remember his days of law enforcement service.
• A rash of vehicle burglaries were reported in the county and a pair of male suspects were arrested thanks to the efforts of the WCSO investigating detectives. Much of the property stolen from the vehicles was recovered and returned to the owners.
• WCSO staff helped a Crawfordville man receive a new handicap ramp at his home by volunteering to provide free labor. Ability 1st organized the event and members of the law enforcement division spent their free time building the ramp during a hot, muggy day.
• Our valuable volunteer Public Service Officer (PSO) Unit put in 236 hours of volunteer time in April and another 200 hours in May. Their dedicated work saved Wakulla County taxpayers more than $6,000 in labor if we had to use sworn deputies to work those details. The PSOs are particularly effective assisting the sworn officers when Wakulla County has festivals.
In May, Panacea hosted the Blue Crab Festival and in July, Sopchoppy hosted the Independence Day celebration. Lots of visitors to the areas mean we need to supplement our paid staff with volunteers. Our reserve deputies also do an outstanding job in the field when needed.
• I gave some special recognition to Ashley Methvin recently. Ashley was driving down U.S. Highway 319 recently when she witnessed a traffic accident in front of her. She took the time to stop and render assistance to the victims. Law enforcement appreciates the efforts of caring citizens who want to make Wakulla County a better place to live.