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Speeders Push Past 100 MPH

CHP says the number of tickets issued for three-digit speeds has tripled in 10 years.

May 05, 2003|Jia-Rui Chong | Times Staff Writer

Kenneth Smith wanted to get to Corona by 7 p.m. to pick up a glass vase on layaway. Instead, the 18-year old ended up with his first speeding ticket -- for driving 101 mph.

"I was going downhill at what I thought was 90," Smith said, standing on the shoulder of the Cajon Pass recently as CHP Officer Mark D. Conner issued the citation. "I didn't even notice, because the music was on, I was dialing numbers on my phone and I was switching lanes."

Smith is not alone. Speeds of more than 100 mph are not uncommon throughout California.

The number of California Highway Patrol citations for driving more than 100 mph has tripled statewide over the last decade. In 1992, for example, 5,290 drivers received tickets, compared with 15,372 last year. In parts of the Inland Empire, such as San Bernardino and Temecula, the numbers have more than quadrupled in the last 10 years, from 184 in 1992 to 856 last year.

High ticket areas include the 17-mile Baker Grade on Interstate 15 southbound from Las Vegas and Interstate 10 from Banning through Indio, CHP officials said.

Inland Empire law enforcement officers said they have seen all types of people breaking 100 mph on the freeways, from older men to young mothers with babies in their cars.

"It's any car from the Saturn to the Porsche," said Lee Nuez, a spokesman for the CHP's Inland Division. "Speed is no respecter of vehicles out here."

Excuses abound. Lateness is typical. Some blame illness; others say they don't even notice their speedometers hitting the triple digits.

Jim Sprowls, on his way back from a fishing trip in Hesperia, said he was just following the flow of traffic that was going 80 mph in a 70 mph zone.

"I may have been going over the speed limit," the Rialto resident said. But there "ain't no one going the speed limit."

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Humorous Excuses

Some of the excuses make even experienced officers chuckle. Indio CHP Officer Tami Low said drivers have told her they were hypnotized by books on tape.

"Something I get often is, 'I had to use the restroom,' " Low said. "I tell them, 'But you just passed a rest stop. Why didn't you stop at the Chevron a mile back?' Then they give me this 'You got me' look."

Low acknowledged that some drivers may hit the pedal too hard without realizing it.

"Usually people are traveling long distances when they go through here," she said. "It's two lanes in either direction with nothing to look at and not a lot of exits. The speed can creep up to 100 and you don't realize it."

While that might appear hard to imagine to city motorists who would be happy to go more than 60 mph, most of the citations are given to people on less congested freeways.

Light traffic volume on seemingly endless straightaways and smoother-driving cars can tempt many motorists to nose the needle above 100 mph, particularly if adrenaline is pumping on a trip to Las Vegas, some officers said.

They also said that the growing desert population, with many people trying to cut time from their commute to Los Angeles, drives up the statistics.

Some CHP officials cautioned, however, that the bumped-up numbers may reflect an improved detection method.

"In 2000, we started using radar on the freeways, which makes it easier to catch people," said Ron Seldon, a CHP spokesman in San Bernardino. "Now we can sit in a spot and wait for them to come to us. It's like putting out a fishing net."

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Putting Others at Risk

Officers said they rarely give 100-plus speeders a break because they are traveling so fast and putting others at risk.

Two Upland men died in January when an overcorrection on a turn made their car vault off the side of Temescal Canyon Road near Corona.

CHP Officer Maurice Walker, who was at the accident, said he could tell the car was going more than 100 mph by the length of the accident scene, the skid marks and witness statements.

The Subaru Impreza WRX flew 500 feet through the air, striking a tree and a fence before it hit the trailer of a big rig. The impact, which shoved the trailer four feet, killed the driver and a passenger.

"Judges take a dim view of cases over 100 mph," said J. Michael Welch, presiding judge for San Bernardino County. "Fines tend to be $500, and they may take the license."

Not only have his traffic commissioners seen double the number of 100-plus-mph offenders in their courts since last year, but the violations seem more flagrant too, Welch said.

"We also see more extremes," he said. "There are people in Barstow cited for 120 to 130 mph."

Occasionally, local police will catch 100-plus speeders on city streets. Two weeks ago, Victorville police caught a motorist going more than 100 mph on a four-lane road.

Lyman Baker, a spokesman for the Victorville Police Department, said the 33-year-old man told them he was late to pick up his daughter.

Meanwhile, at the 70-mph Cajon Pass on Interstate 15, the CHP's Conner was having an average afternoon. With his patrol car parked on the center divider, the 23-year CHP veteran aimed his radar gun between two trees and spotted a Chevrolet Blazer blowing past smaller cars and lumbering trucks at 101 mph.

"I'm late to pick up my girlfriend," said the 17-year-old boy, who was driving his mother's car. He declined to give his name because he said he was in enough trouble with his mother, adding, "Now I'm even later."

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