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‘Eye in sky’ grounds speeders

Wed., March 22, 2006

Busted. And they didn’t even see it coming.

About two dozen drivers were ticketed Tuesday on Interstate 90 near Sullivan during a demonstration of the Washington State Patrol’s “eye in the sky” traffic patrols.

Drivers below don’t even know they’re being watched by an airplane until it’s too late.

“The weather gets nice. Speeds pick up. So we bring Big John to take care of it,” Trooper Jeff Sevigney said of Trooper John Montemayor, one of two pilots assigned to patrol Eastern Washington.

Tuesday was a slow day because of all the stops to pick up newspaper and TV reporters at Felts Field, said Sevigney. On a more typical air patrol day, troopers will ticket 75 to 150 drivers in the 60-mph area near Sullivan.

“Nobody notices the plane,” said Montemayor.

Sevigney once pulled over a man driving down the freeway with his radar detector pointed straight up and out his sunroof.

That driver learned an expensive lesson that day about how Washington State Patrol planes catch speeders – and it doesn’t have anything to do with radar.

Montemayor demonstrated Tuesday how he clocks speeders from the sky above Interstate 90, using marks painted by the Washington State Department of Transportation and a stopwatch that calculates speed based on time and distance. Montemayor can determine drivers’ speed down to one-hundredth of a mile per hour from the air.

Once he spots and clocks them, he radios troopers on the ground, who pull over drivers and issue tickets.

Finding speeders from the pilot’s seat of the State Patrol’s Cessna 182 Skylane is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. They are easy to spot rocketing down the left lane past slower drivers on the right.

Montemayor has gotten the goods on about 20,000 drivers over the past three years.

In just minutes he clocks a half-dozen drivers going 70-plus mph.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting enough officers out here to catch them all,” said Sevigney.


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