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Freeway Surprise : CHP Feint Ensnares Motorists

Times Staff Writer

With an excess of fanfare and a dearth of precise detail, the California Highway Patrol brought its crackdown on freeway speeding into the San Fernando Valley this week, striking where it was least expected Tuesday.

The CHP had forewarned motorists that it was putting two special motorcycle teams of 15 officers each on stretches of the freeways that have a lot of accidents.

Advance publicity listed the Golden State, San Diego and the Foothill freeways as examples.

On Tuesday, hundreds of speeders on the Simi Valley Freeway found out the hard way that its absence from the list was not an oversight.

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Easy Pickings

Starting with the morning commuter traffic and continuing through the afternoon, the notoriously untamed freeway made easy pickings for one of the motorcycle teams.

The commander of the freeway task force carefully avoided calling it a classic case of disinformation.

“We hoped it would be somewhat by surprise,” Sgt. John Lilly said coyly. On Sunday and Monday his team had struck the Ventura Freeway, which also wasn’t on the list.

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The ruse worked perfectly. It was show time for the CHP.

During one period early in the afternoon, officers were picking out violators as quickly as they could accelerate into the fast lane and turn on their lights.

Quarter-Mile Intervals

Wherever one officer stood on the shoulder beside his catch--which was frequently two cars at a time--two or three of his colleagues would pass by, lights flashing in pursuit of someone else.

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At some points the officers and the cars they had stopped were visible as far as the eye could see at intervals of a quarter of a mile or less.

A count of the citations issued will not be available until Friday, Lilly said. However, when someone suggested the numbers might be in the hundreds, Lilly didn’t disagree. In an hour’s time, officers pulled over dozens of motorists.

“I was really surprised at the way the people were driving,” he said.

Most of the drivers, of course, thought their driving was just fine.

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‘Wasn’t Doing Over 65'

“I noticed there were a lot of them out so, of course, I wasn’t doing over 65,” said Douglas Nielsen of Pacoima, cited Tuesday for exceeding 65 m.p.h. on his way to Simi.

“I was doing 60,” Nielsen said. “Cars were passing me like crazy.”

That was one of the more sanguine responses from about a dozen motorists asked whether they had heard in advance about the crackdown.

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“I was only doing 55 and he was going to write me up for 70,” said another man who, the entire time his ticket was being written, held out his arms and shook his head in the gesture of a basketball player called for a foul.

The officer gave some ground. He wrote the ticket for 69.

Tuesday was the last of a three-day strike in the Valley, Lilly said. This morning, the task force will show up somewhere else, by surprise, of course.

Effect Is Anyone’s Guess

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Whether the single day of retribution will have a long-term effect on the lawless ways of the Simi Valley Freeway, or California 118 as it is designated, was anyone’s guess.

One officer wasn’t even sure that traffic showed any sign of taming on Tuesday.

“I’ll be honest,” said a cheerful Officer Bruce Reimer, taking a moment’s rest astride his bike. “Between you and me, I don’t think 15 guys are enough to slow this down. It’s like everybody wants to be leader and they’re jockeying for position on the Indianapolis 118 Freeway.”

Reimer pointed to a group of cars slowing down as they spotted his motorcycle on top of an overpass.

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“When you watch them come out the other side, they start pushing it up again,” he said. “It’s a cat-and-mouse game. It’s fun. I don’t take anything personally. Oh, there’s a good one following too close.”

Chased the Rabbit

He pointed to a silver Volkswagen Rabbit cruising right on the tail of the car in front. He took after it.

The driver of the Rabbit was lucky. Reimer got a red Toyota instead, long before he caught the Rabbit.

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The driver had heard about the crackdown.

“I knew about it, but I wasn’t speeding,” he insisted. Then he rolled up his window and accelerated away.


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