Catch & Release: Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Hanley hunts and fishes for drunken drivers in the dark of Summit nights
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles featuring ridealongs with officers from local law enforcement agencies.SUMMIT COUNTY – Tom Hanley has a reputation as a DUI hunter – a gung-ho cop racking up arrest statistics. It’s a notoriety that often elicits heckling from spectators or passing motorists, but he’s OK with that.The 23-year-old Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputy, who’s already logged about 45 driving under the influence arrests this year, also is happy when he doesn’t find DUI drivers, because it means people are “getting the message.” But just because he doesn’t find them, that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.”People shout all kinds of stuff at me, but I don’t mind – they haven’t seen the things I’ve seen,” Hanley said. “After you’ve pulled a couple bloody people out of crushed cars that reek of alcohol, your perspective changes. It’s really unquantifiable, and it sounds trite, but I believe I’m saving lives.”It’s been a quiet summer for law enforcement in Summit County, and the past few weeks have been a slump for Hanley. But Saturday morning, just when he was about to give up, he found what he knew was out there on the road:7 p.m. Friday – Hanley hits the road in his patrol car at the start of a 12-hour shift. He bids for the night shifts because that’s where the action is. At the start of each nightly patrol, Hanley inspects his vehicle to make sure equipment such as lights and radios are working properly. He also uses tuning forks to check the calibration on his radar gun, a system check he performs after each speeding ticket he writes.7:16 p.m. – Cruising east over Swan Mountain Road, Hanley clocks oncoming traffic with the radar gun. Throughout the night, he and the other two patrol cars will roam from Keystone to Copper Mountain and Green Mountain Reservoir to Breckenridge.”That guy just got himself a ticket,” Hanley said. He whips a U-turn to catch up with a speeder he clocked at 49 mph in the 35 mph speed limit. After speaking with the driver, he runs the license and registration information through dispatch and begins filling out the ticket. While writing, Hanley recognizes another car as it passes.”I pulled that guy over last week and told him to get that tail light fixed,” he said. “Darn it.”7:32 p.m. – Hanley sends the speeder on his way and finds a secluded spot to fill out his log – the nightly record of all his activity. He rechecks the calibration on his radar gun.Above the car door near the sun visor, Hanley has pinned a picture of his girlfriend, a Summit County Ambulance paramedic and Snake River firefighter.”You get a lot of people cussing you out and getting nasty when you write them a ticket,” Hanley said. “But she’s always smiling right there when I get back.”7:45 p.m. – Hanley has made a quick patrol through Summit Cove. Friday night traffic is beginning to increase as the sun sets. A pickup rolls a stop sign and Hanley stops the driver. Each time he gets out of the car, he reaches for his heavy-duty flashlight. “It might be light when you get out, but they could flee and lead you someplace dark.”Hanley writes the driver a warning.”Sometimes, a warning is more effective than a ticket,” Hanley said. “You give them a ticket, they curse you and drive away. You give them a warning, and they’re more likely to really think about what they were doing. People just get complacent driving around their own neighborhoods. This is a friendly reminder.”8:05 p.m. – The dispatchers ask Hanley to respond to Copper Mountain, where a child is discovered roaming without his parents. “Looks like I might actually get to help someone tonight,” Hanley said.8:34 p.m. – Hanley arrives at Copper Mountain and approaches restaurant staff who found the child. A waitress tells him the boy made a “jailbreak” from the day-care center but was successfully returned without incident. Hanley talks with resort security guards and day-care staff, to whom he gives a business card.9:28 p.m. – Hanley meets two other deputies in a church parking lot near Dillon Valley. An earlier shift was unable to locate a suspect in a domestic violence incident. The deputies quickly brief one another and discuss how they will attempt to locate the man. But the attempt is unfruitful; the man has not returned home.9:35 p.m. – Dispatchers report an open fire at Tiger Run RV Resort. By the time Hanley arrives 25 minutes later, another patrol car and fire engine are already there and have handled the situation. The deputies decide it’s time for dinner.10:10 p.m. – The deputies are greeted and seated at Downstairs at Eric’s by owner Eric Mamula. Mamula and the waitstaff, as well as a few customers, greet the officers by name. The officers joke with each other, talk about family and work, all while keeping an ear tuned to their radios. Hanley orders a big meal, the only one he eats each day.”It’s hard to stay in shape working nights,” he said. “I try to knock out a few miles when I get up, but it’s real easy to fall into a pattern of sitting on the couch, eating snacks and not exercising. I have a SWAT team tryout coming up. I’m really sweating that.”11:10 p.m. – With the bill settled, Hanley returns to the Sheriff’s Office to check e-mail, voicemail and his department mailbox. Finding no messages, he hits the road again, checking speeds of passing cars.11:40 p.m. – Hanley decides to do a security check at Summit High School. The deputies routinely check for unlocked doors at the county’s schools, and patrols have stepped up since windows were broken at the high school two weeks ago. Hanley discovers an open cafeteria door and calls for backup. Three deputies search the school and learn football players are camping out in the building as part of a freshman orientation.12:50 a.m. Saturday – A Dillon officer call for assistance. An intoxicated man at the bowling alley claims his car was stolen. Officers relay the possible destination of the car to Hanely, who sets out in search of it.12:55 a.m. – Hanley finds the car in Silverthorne. He gets the license plate number and drives a short distance away to wait for other officers. When they arrive, however, the reporting party has changed his story so many times the officers cannot substantiate the car was actually stolen (as opposed to an alcohol-fueled family dispute).1:50 a.m. – Hanley patrols Swan Mountain Road again, checking speeds. He knows an oncoming car has a radar detector because the driver slams on the breaks as he clocks the car. He turns around to follow and realizes the driver has passed another car across the double yellow line to get away. The driver is sober and, because Hanley didn’t actually see her pass the car, he lets her off with a warning. “She’s a frequent flier,” he said. “We run into her often.”2:16 a.m. – Cruising south on Airport Road, Hanley spots a car stopped on Highway 9. He navigates an alley, heads north on the highway and sees the car quickly veer off into the 7-Eleven parking lot. Continuing down Highway 9, Hanley watches his rear-view mirror. He watches the car immediately leave 7-Eleven, and as he turns around to go after it, the car cuts down Valley Brook Street. Hanley pulls over the the vehicle in the Breckenridge Terrace parking lot. “The 7-Eleven turn and this last one were not properly signalled,” he said.Hanely speaks with the driver and returns to the car with his information. “He will be going to jail,” Hanley said. “It reeks in that car.”But the first piece of paper Hanley reaches for is a warning slip. You never know if it’s a medical condition that makes the driver appear drunk, he said. The driver performs roadside tests with a Breckenridge police officer looking on. Hanley confers with the Breck officer and reaches for his clipboard with the warning ticket.”The smell was coming off other people,” Hanley said. “He said he’d had some drinks, and his roadsides were iffy, but I don’t want to get back and find out he’s under the limit. Arresting people when they’re under is bad juju.”2:42 a.m. – Hanley loops around the north of Breckenridge again and comes upon another car northbound on Highway 9. The car turns off at 7-Eleven, too, without using a turn signal. Hanley follows and the car attempts a U-turn 100 feet down County Road 450.While beginning paperwork on the stop and looking over the driver’s information, a car at the intersection ahead drives through the red light.”That jerk,” Hanley said. “I guess he knows the breaks. I can’t leave because this guy’s probably going to jail.”Hanley asks the driver to step out of the car. He asks the driver about his evening – where he’s been, how much he’s had to drink. The driver is calm and asks about his rights and options. He’s concerned tests won’t accurately show how well he’s able to drive. A Breckenridge officer shows up to assist.After observing the roadside tests, Hanley arrests the man. The driver is handcuffed and placed in Hanley’s car. The Breckenridge officer has the female passenger blow in a preliminary breath test, or PBT, to see if she can drive the car. She’s over the limit, so the Breckenridge officer has the woman gather her things for a ride home. Hanley parks their car in an adjacent lot. He explains the Colorado Express Consent Law to the man – by accepting a license, drivers also must submit to a breath or blood test or lose the license. The man chooses a blood test.3:30 a.m. – The man talks to Hanley all the way to Summit Medical Center. It’s his first time being arrested, he said. He hadn’t drank in more than seven months. Hanley responds congenially, neither lecturing nor condescending. He listens. Many of the statements will make it into his report.3:40 a.m. – Hanley drives the man to the Summit County Jail. The booking process is full of protocol and paperwork. Hanley finishes the processing at 5 a.m. The next hour-and-a-half is spent completing reports from the night’s shift. And then it’s bedtime.
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