State patrol keeps eye on North Bend

Trooper Grant Campbell strides into the North Bend Washington State Patrol detachment office carrying an unusually tall, thin object in a plastic bag. He unwraps it to reveal a 2-foot-tall bong complete with rancid water, and the smell of marijuana immediately permeates the entire room. Confiscated moments earlier from a couple of apparently unconcerned teenagers, Campbell begins the process of checking the drug paraphernalia into evidence.

It's business as usual for the two sergeants and 12 troopers who work here in the Valley. While the state patrol is primarily responsible for traffic law enforcement, collision investigation and motorist assistance on state and interstate highways, troopers often encounter such situations as a result of routine traffic stops.

Recently, two new sergeants reported to the North Bend detachment office. Rob Sharpe, who has been with the state patrol for 15 years, was promoted to the rank of sergeant on his wife Elizabeth's birthday, Sept. 29. A Washington State University criminal justice major, Sharpe worked as a commercial vehicle enforcement officer for nine-and-a-half years before entering the State Patrol Academy to become a trooper. Sharpe lives in Seattle.

Mark Crandall, also a 15-year veteran of the state patrol, comes to this area after working as a trooper in Seattle, Vancouver and Colfax. Crandall hails from the eastern Washington town of Pomeroy and is also a Washington State University graduate. He is currently living on Snoqualmie Pass and has two children in Colfax.

Each sergeant supervises a detachment of six troopers, alternating shifts to ensure the area is sufficiently covered at all times.

The two North Bend detachments patrol Interstate 90 from Preston to the Snoqualmie summit, Highway 18 from I-90 to the Issaquah-Hobart Road, State Route 202 from North Bend to Fall City and SR 203 from Fall City to Duvall.

With the majority of calls for assistance occurring on I-90 from North Bend to the summit of Snoqualmie Pass, keeping traffic flowing smoothly on the pass is a priority, especially in the winter.

"To help keep the roadway clear, we want to focus on truck enforcement," Sharpe said. "When trucks lose control they spin out and they block traffic. On a hill they lose traction and get stuck."

All commercial vehicles licensed for more than 10,000 pounds are required to carry tire chains when traveling over mountain passes between Nov. 1 and April 1.

The state patrol works closely with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to ensure the safety of winter travelers. When driving conditions on Snoqualmie Pass become dangerous because of weather conditions and avalanche control, the sergeants consult with WSDOT to determine if the pass should be closed. WSDOT recently installed two automated closure gates at on ramps located at mile posts 34 and 47 to assist with pass closures.

Troopers in North Bend also work traffic control with the state patrol's aviation division. State patrol pilots assist troopers in detecting traffic violations from the air. Sharpe noted that the stretch of I-90 between North Bend and Preston is known as a high-speed area.

"One of our goals is increased speed enforcement in the Preston area using the plane and radar as effective enforcement tools," Sharpe said.

Washington State Patrol studies have shown that by focusing on four major areas - aggressive driving, speeding, seat belt awareness and DUI (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) - collisions can be reduced, preventing injuries and saving lives. Troopers in North Bend plan on conducting numerous DUI enforcement patrols through the holiday season in an effort to reduce alcohol-related collisions.

Many times drivers are under the influence of drugs in addition to alcohol. Sharpe and Crandall are both "Drug Recognition Experts." Thanks to specialized training, they are able to more easily detect drivers who are under the influence of illegal and/or prescription drugs.

Sharpe and Crandall have also participated in the Drug Identification Training for Education Professionals (DITEP) program. The DITEP program teaches educators to recognize the signs of drug and/or alcohol impairment in the classroom with the intention of intervening and stopping the cycle of abuse and addiction. The sergeants hope to use their training and share their knowledge of this program within the local schools.

Another important aspect of the job for troopers is criminal interdiction. During routine traffic stops, troopers utilize their training and experience to detect other crimes. These can include illegal drug and weapons violations, possession of stolen property, felony warrants and other criminal violations.

Troopers in the Valley do more than just write tickets. They work hard to educate motorists about traffic safety and are involved in the local community. This holiday season the North Bend State Patrol sergeants and troopers are once again participating in the annual "Operation Santa Claus" program in conjunction with the King County Sheriff's Office, North Bend Substation. Troopers will be collecting donated canned or packaged (nonperishable) food items and wrapped toys to deliver to needy families in the Valley on Dec. 20.

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