An Interstate 90 rest area that was the site of a sex sting decades ago is proving again to be a trouble spot for law enforcement.
Idaho State Police say more than two dozen used hypodermic needles are found each week at the Huetter Rest Area east of Post Falls, giving rise to concerns that travelers could be stuck and potentially infected with diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis C.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls from the maintenance people out there about finding a bunch of drug paraphernalia scattered hither and yon,” ISP Capt. Clark Rollins said.
Rollins said many of the drug needles are found in a handicapped-accessible bathroom at the rest area on the eastbound side of Interstate 90.
“Officers said they’re seeing about 30 hyps a week, which is way too many,” Rollins said. “With that many, it’s not just some diabetic that came in and shot insulin and left. … My concern is somebody getting jabbed.”
Though many of the needles were discovered at the rest area on the eastbound side of I-90, Rollins said the rest area directly across the freeway, on the westbound side, is also home to criminal activity.
In the early 1980s, the ISP conducted a sting operation, breaking up a gay sex ring that had been active at the rest area. The then-superintendent of the Post Falls School District was among the men arrested.
Though there haven’t been highly publicized reports of problems at the rest area – other than problems with graffiti in 2006 – Rollins said it’s still a popular spot for sex-seekers.
“It’s a daily occurrence out there,” Rollins said. He said the ISP recently arrested a man at the rest stop for obscene conduct.
Officers are stepping up patrols to try to stop the illegal activity, but Rollins said ISP doesn’t have the resources to patrol the rest area around the clock.
The Idaho Department of Transportation has tried to reduce prostitution and other illegal activity at the rest stop in a number of ways, said John Perfect, the ITD’s district maintenance engineer.
“We have limbed up all the trees, removed some trees and cleaned up the brush within the two sites so that when ISP patrols the area, they’re able to see into the trees a whole lot better,” Perfect said.
Covering up graffiti – such as telephone numbers and explicit messages – is a minor expense but a constant nuisance, Perfect said. In the past, the ITD has had to replace entire stalls because of damage.
Tony Enzler, of Spokane, was among a group that camped overnight at the rest area for a Scouting event.
“It seemed to be fine that night,” Enzler wrote in response to an informal e-mail survey sent to Spokesman-Review readers.
Though the rest area was deserted when she last visited, Spokane’s Diana Lawson wrote that she didn’t think she’d stop again by herself.
“I would pass by it after dark,” she said. “For some reason it just feels too far off the highway to be comfortable, even though it really isn’t.”