Driver clocked at 83 mph
The car was zooming into Park City on S.R. 224 near the McPolin Farm on a recent day.
Mike Fierro, a Park City police officer, was driving the out of town, and he realized the person in the other car, a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, was going fast. The veteran officer did not need a radar gun to know the person was speeding, but Fierro trained the radar on the Jeep anyway.
The readout said 83 mph, far too fast for a police officer to ignore on a stretch of road where the posted speed limit is 55 mph.
"I’m watching traffic. That car, it was very obvious," Fierro says.
The officer let three of four cars pass before making a U-turn. He did not immediately turn on the police sport utility vehicle’s siren or emergency lights. Instead he followed the driver to a spot near the Park Avenue post office before pulling the person over, emergency lights flashing.
The 83 mph is fast by Park City standards, even on S.R. 224, a wide state highway that is a favored spot for the Police Department’s speeding patrols. Fierro stopped the driver amid widened efforts by the police to catch speeders and drivers violating other traffic laws.
The Police Department has long encouraged officers to conduct traffic patrols if there are not handling other cases, and a police official says officers in recent weeks have had more time to watch for lawbreaking drivers. Phil Kirk, a Police Department captain, also says speeds increase once winter weather clears.
In the S.R. 224 case, Fierro says, five people from Salt Lake City were in the car four adults and one young girl. They spoke Russian or Ukrainian, and the girl translated. The girl’s father told Fierro he did not realize he was driving so fast. Fierro wrote the man a speeding ticket, but gave him a break by writing it for 9 mph above the speed limit, not for the full 28 mph.
"Obviously they were totally out of their element," Fierro says.
Speeding drivers have for years left Parkites unhappy, with neighborhoods claiming drivers buzz through the residential streets and others saying people drive too fast on the S.R. 224 and S.R. 248 entryways. Complaints typically come from most of Park City’s neighborhoods, but people in Prospector in recent years have been especially unhappy. The police have used measure like stepped-up patrols, electronic speeding signs and decoy cars parked on the sides of roads.
Kirk says the case on S.R. 224 is disturbing, describing that the person was driving much faster than speeders typically caught. On that part of S.R. 224, Kirk says, speeders are usually ticketed for driving between 10 mph and 15 mph above the speed limit, or between 65 mph and 70 mph.
"That’s approaching reckless driving, that speed," Kirk says, describing a charge more serious than speeding. "It’s obviously extremely unsafe."
Kirk, who oversees the Police Department’s patrol division, the section of the department that enforces speed limits, estimates up to 25 percent of an officer’s workday is spent on speeding patrols and other traffic-related work, including investigating accidents. The Police Department, however, does not use a ticket-quota system, meaning officers do not need to write a certain number of tickets on each shift.
In 2007, police officers issued 6,004 citations, or about 16 each day. The police say the citations are usually for traffic offenses like speeding, but the Police Department’s annual crime report does not separate the traffic stops from other types of crimes resulting in citations. The citation figure was up almost 17 percent from the year before.
"They’re not able to stop in time for hazards that present themselves," Kirk says about speeders like the person caught on S.R. 224. "There’s not enough reaction time."
Two people indicated in interviews they are considering mounting campaigns for the Park City Council, a signal the City Hall election could attract an intriguing slate of candidates in a year when the majority of the five seats are on the ballot.