LANCASTER — Much as a pilot completes a preflight safety checklist before takeoff, California Highway Patrol officer Brad Taggart completes his own checklist before he hits the road in his Dodge Charger patrol vehicle.

Taggart, 30, was dressed in the CHP’s dark blue utility uniform instead of the traditional khaki for a recent shift. The slim, fit officer has dark, close-cropped hair, a big smile and a mustache fit for an ’80s action TV series.

Taggart checked the supplies in the Charger’s trunk before he left the Antelope Valley CHP station on Avenue I in Lancaster, accompanied by an Antelope Valley Press reporter for a ride-a-long, last Monday.

Over the next three-and-a-half hours, Taggart stopped four speeding drivers, assisted a CHP motor officer with a traffic break on the Antelope Valley Freeway, tagged an abandoned utility truck without license plates parked in the center median of the freeway, and removed a shredded tire from the center of a two-lane road.

The  official mission of the CHP is to provide the highest level of safety, service and security.

The Antelope Valley CHP’s jurisdiction includes all roadways within unincorporated Los Angeles County, along with all state highways within the Antelope Valley. In 2020, the station documented 42 separate fatal traffic collisions in 2020, which resulted in 45 deaths. Through Nov. 12, the station documented 50 deaths in its jurisdiction.

The equipment inside the Charger’s trunk is there to help Taggart when he responds to any type of call. There is a shovel, an orange traffic cone, a dog snare, medical bag, fire extinguisher and a rule meter for measuring after a traffic collision.

“It’s not a whole lot of math but a lot of times what we take measurements of is where the vehicles come to rest, where they stop after the accident,” Taggart said.

The skid marks motorists see on the roadway or freeway are not necessarily skid marks but what Taggart called tire friction marks.

“A lot of it’s not the rubber from the tire; it’s when you hit your hit brakes and your wheel starts sliding across the asphalt, it brings the oil from the asphalt up,” Taggart said. “That’s why they stay on there for so long.”

Taggart opened a box of flares, counted seven, and determined he needed more. He got a case of flares from a storage shelf and grabbed some to supplement his supply. He checked his ticket pad and breath test machine.

The handheld black and yellow breath analyzer is used to measure a driver’s blood-alcohol concentration. The yellow case for the device included numerous disposable plastic tubes that drivers who are suspected of driving under the influence would blow into to measure their blood-alcohol content. The device’s history allowed Taggart to view the results the last time it was used.

“The person, they got arrested, they blew a 0.124, which is one-and-a-half times the legal limit,” Taggart said.

In California, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher. You can still be arrested if you are caught driving below that, however.

“Point oh-five to 0.08 you can be arrested but anything over that you’re going to be,” Taggart said, emphasizing the “can” and “going.”

Taggart has two options for writing a ticket: the traditional paper pad and a laptop computer. The laptop comes with a program that allows Taggart to scan a motorist’s driver’s license and input the citation information. The tickets print out in the patrol vehicle on thermal paper similar to a receipt.

Before his shift, Taggart checked his radar unit with tuning forks to ensure it was accurate and fair.

“We don’t want to use a radar unit that’s bad because then we’re writing someone a ticket for 80 when they’re really doing something else,” Taggart said.

Taggart’s radar unit checked out and he was on his way.

“We have to make sure everything is up running and good before we go out there,” he said.

He pulled onto the northbound Antelope Valley Freeway entrance next to the CHP office and quickly found a speeding motorist driving a black Lexus IS 250. The driver was traveling at 84 mph. Taggart turned on the Charger’s lights and siren. When the driver did not pull over right away, Taggart added an extra horn.

Taggart used the vehicle’s computer to make sure the driver had a valid license and no warrants. Both checked out. He printed the ticket — which is long to accommodate what would be both sides of a paper ticket — using the printer underneath the computer in his vehicle.

The motorist did not realize how fast he was driving, Taggart said.

“That’s what a lot of people say,” he said. “They didn’t realize how fast they were going, or they’re running late to something.”

Taggart and his fellow officers are there to remind drivers to slow down.

After he issued that first ticket of the day,  Taggart pulled off the freeway and parked his patrol vehicle (with the front end facing the road) to finish inputting the information on the 215 — the penal code number for a moving violation, which in this case was for speeding.

Come January, Taggart will mark his  sixth anniversary with the California Highway Patrol. During that time he has learned how to spot speeders. He can tell if a motorist is speeding just by watching them. He knows what 65 mph looks like. He can judge if someone is driving 15 mph over the speed limit. The radar in his patrol vehicle backs him up. The computer displays the motorist’s speed in the upper left-hand corner. Two arrows indicate if the vehicle is coming closer to him or moving away.

Taggart stopped another driver for speeding on Sierra Highway south of Avenue F. Taggart smelled marijuana from the car when he talked to the driver. Marijuana is legal in California, though you cannot smoke it while you are driving and it must be in a sealed container.

The stop lasted 25 minutes, during which Taggart administered five different types of field sobriety tests. The cooperative driver got off with a warning.

“Drive safe; slow down,” Taggart told the driver,

Taggart did not write the driver a speeding ticket.

“I feel like if you cooperate with me and you go through the tests and I’m taking up 20 minutes of your time, then I’ll let you go,” he said.

Taggart then checked a list of calls on the computer. He radioed his intention to assist a CHP motor officer with a collision about 10 miles away on the northbound Antelope Valley Freeway near R. Lee Ermey Boulevard (Avenue N), where a vehicle ran into the guardrail. He raced down the southbound freeway with his vehicle’s lights flashing and siren blaring. Some motorists moved to the right to allow Taggart to pass; others were not so fast.

“A lot of people don’t pay attention,” Taggart said.

Taggart exited the freeway at Palmdale Boulevard, turned around and entered the northbound ramp. As he approached the collision site, he conducted  a traffic break – driving across lanes — to slow oncoming traffic.

The vehicle that hit the guardrail apparently a tire blow out and the driver lost control. By the time Taggart arrived, it was out of lanes near the guardrail.

Taggart urged drivers to look farther ahead instead of focusing on the directly ahead of them, when asked what advice he would give people to be safer when driving.

“If traffic’s breaking up there, chances are it’s going to start breaking here so I can slow down a lot sooner,” Taggart said. “That eliminates a lot of that, ‘Uh oh, traffic’s stopping in front of me, I need to slam on my brakes.’ ”

If you maintain a good following distance it gives you more time to react to unexpected hazards in the road, he said.

Taggart uses his vehicle’s computer  to run license plates as he patrols. If he comes across a stolen vehicle, the computer screen will turn red. He also uses the computer to fill out his reports. He waits until he is safely stopped because that takes more time. The car is equipped with a camera that records audio and video of each stop Taggart makes.

The car also has a hand control that allows Taggart to control many different things, including the car’s radar and lights. What it does not have is a cup holder. Taggart uses an after-market cup holder.

Besides speeders, Taggart looks for drivers making unsafe lane changes, using cellphones, running stop signs or red lights or not wearing their seatbelt. He also looks for expired vehicle registrations. He checked one driver’s vehicle with September 2020 tags on the license plate.

“I’m just going to run her plate real quick and see if it’s actually expired or she hasn’t put her tag on there,” Taggart said.

That is still a violation that could warrant a ticket for the driver, he explained.

The registration was valid through September 2021. However, since this is November, it was also expired by two months.

“We’re not going to bug her for that,” Taggart said.

Taggart’s patrol vehicle is a deterrent itself. Other drivers slow down when they see it on the freeway.

For some drivers, it was too late. Taggart caught two speeders each driving 83 mph on the two-lane California State Route 138/West Avenue D, where the speed limit is 55 mph.

One of the drivers would have more problems beyond a speeding ticket. He had an expired vehicle registration on his Nissan Sentra. He also did not have a driver’s license or auto insurance. Taggart pulled him over just as the sun was setting.

“You’re getting a ticket for everything you did wrong,” Taggart explained to the driver in his calm, friendly voice.

Taggart had the car towed. By this time, it was dark. He gave the driver his ticket and told him where he could retrieve the vehicle. The driver was picked up by a family member or friend.

“He was more cooperative,” Taggart said.

(1) comment

johndebs9

They gave there all to protect us around the clock!

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