04/26/10 — Keeping the roads safe

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Keeping the roads safe

By Laura Collins
Published in News on April 26, 2010 1:46 PM

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North Carolina State Trooper Adam Fowler, right, shows News-Argus reporter Laura Collins the features on his patrol car computer before they patrolled Wayne County on Friday.

The Job: Trooper

The Company: North Carolina Highway Patrol

The Location: Wayne County

The questions I was asked upon meeting the State Highway Patrol troopers I was shadowing left me a little uneasy.

"You don't get car sick do you?" Trooper Adam Fowler asked.

"How're you going to run in those shoes?" Trooper Mike Conley asked.

I didn't realize running was a possibility.

"You know what I think would be a great story," Fowler said. "I think you should let us taze you."

I'm pretty sure the last comment was a joke, but I can't be sure.

I ended up riding along with Trooper Fowler, who has been with the Highway Patrol for three years. After a little while, we still hadn't stopped anyone.

"I swear, you're bad luck," Fowler said.

"It isn't me."

"It is you."

And then it happened. We were making our way down U.S. 70 when Fowler clocked someone traveling in the opposite direction going nearly 20 miles over the speed limit. The only problem was, he didn't tell me he had clocked anyone, and we were going to pull them over. So when in mid-sentence, he drives off the road into the grass median, I assumed we were crashing.

This is where I discovered how I react in emergency situations. I close my eyes, cover my head and hold my breath. Apparently I am not one of those people who remains calm during an emergency.

I realized we weren't crashing once we passed through the median and fishtailed onto the other side of the highway. Although I knew we were no longer crashing, the sheer speed at which we were traveling allowed me to continue my emergency reaction position.

After issuing a citation, Fowler got back in the car and poked fun at the common misconception that troopers have quotas or incentives for writing tickets.

"Three more and we get a new toaster," he said.

Although there's an obvious adrenaline rush when it comes to chasing down and pulling over a speeding car, for Fowler, his job is more than just a rush. His father was hit by a drunken driver going more than 100 miles per hour.

"That's where you have truly innocent victims," he said. "Some family driving down the road and a drunk driver hits them."

He believes keeping drunken drivers off the street is the best way he can help his family.

"That is where I feel I can make the most difference," he said.

Later in the evening, Fowler, Conley, and the other troopers on their shift set up a license checkpoint.

During the checkpoint, Fowler noticed someone who turned around in the road to avoid the checkpoint. He ordered me to the car, and at this point I understood why my shoes had been questioned. Conley was already moving by the time I got to the car and hopped in. We didn't catch the guy who turned around. Based on the conversation Fowler had over the radio, I think it was my fault.

"We didn't get there in time," he said. "My K-9 can't run." Since there was no K-9 in the car, I'm pretty sure he was referring to me.

"Next time I'm just leaving you," he said.

"On the road? What if I get kidnapped?" I asked.

"Don't worry, they'd bring you back."

When we got back, I got out of the car to watch Conley in action. Conley, a self-proclaimed Jedi Knight, tends to be the funny guy of the group. But when it comes to the checkpoint, he is all business. It was interesting to see how much of their job relies on instinct. For the checkpoint, all drivers have to show is their license and they are waved through. But one driver caught Conley's attention.

"There's something not right about that car. He has a license, but he's terrified. I'm going to run (his license)," he said. Sure enough, there were problems with the license.

It goes to show how much risk there is associated with their job.

"We could be pulling over a grandma or we could be pulling over someone wanted for murder," Fowler said.

In addition to the person in the vehicle, the troopers' other source of constant danger are drivers on the road failing to move over for a traffic stop.

"People around here do not move over," Fowler said. "It's an experience to be standing by a car and someone comes by you 60, 70 miles per hour two feet from you."

When it was all said and done, I realized that being a trooper takes more than just the right shoes. It takes smarts, instincts and a real desire to make a difference and to keep people you do not even know safe. It means being willing to face danger -- even in places you might not think you will find it.

I guess, in a word, you could just call it courage.