State troopers watching for unsecured loads

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MONROE — When it comes to rock-chipped windshields, Washington State Patrol feels your pane.

Horrible homonym aside, local troopers are fielding plenty of calls these days from steamed drivers who experienced the ubiquitous thwack-turned-crack of wayward road debris.

"We have all been there," patrol Sgt. Greg Erwin said. "We have all got them."

That paralyzing second of fear soon turns into seething sticker shock.

What those callers to the State Patrol might not realize is troopers keep track of where the complaints are coming from and target areas to track down truckers with leaky loads.

They were out in full force Thursday in an area stretching from Monroe to Maltby and Woodinville.

"It's a huge pet peeve with people who live out here," State Patrol Sgt. Kirk Rudeen said. "It's a big expense for them."

During the past two years, troopers statewide have pulled over more than 12,000 drivers suspected of hauling unsecured loads. They've also handed out more than 1,600 tickets and given than 10,000-plus written and verbal warnings. An unsecured load can result in a $216 fine under state law.

Troopers say word travels fast among commercial truckers when they're out and about. "I look at myself as a driver behavior-modification expert," said trooper Doug Sackman of the commercial vehicle enforcement division.

Or, as Rudeen puts it, "As soon as the word gets out, all of a sudden the loads go down and the tarps go up."

Rudeen spent more than two hours driving a loop along Highway 522 and Highway 9 in a black unmarked SUV.

He pulled over one truck hauling 2-to-4-inch chunks of recycled concrete. The sergeant climbed atop one of the back tires and took measurements to make sure the load was separated low enough from side boards to keep debris from spilling out.

"All in all, he did a good job loading it," he said, letting the driver continue on his way without an infraction. "The vast majority of trucks are very responsible. It's a small percentage that create the problems, which is why we are out here."

Robin Abel of Renton has dedicated herself to getting drivers to think hard about unsecured loads. In 2004, her daughter, Maria Federici, then 27, was critically injured on I-405 when a piece of particleboard smashed through her windshield. It blinded the young woman and resulted in many surgeries, including facial reconstruction.

"I tell people to secure their loads as if someone you love is in the vehicle behind you," Abel said.