I'm Officer Phil Lentz, and as a Motor Carrier Master Inspector for the South Dakota Highway Patrol I get asked a lot for the crazy, wacky, and interesting things that happen on the job. I am sure this happens to most people who are in a law enforcement role.
K & J invited me on their blog to share some of my more "interesting" experiences, and what I have learned over the years from these weird situations! Here are some of my favorite stories. All these little life lessons are true; and I was a part of each of them or witnessed them personally. I hope you enjoy!
Snow-Globe Side Box
When doing routine inspections, part of the Level II inspection is to make sure all commercial vehicles have a working fire extinguisher. There is no regulation for where it’s stored, but it must be readily available for use and secured in such a manner that it cannot roll or slide around inside the truck. You'll learn why that part is important in a moment.
When I ask drivers to show me the fire extinguisher they often open up the side box of the truck, because that is where they are frequently stored, only to find that it has gone off in transit!
The drivers have usually either failed to secure it causing it to roll around or at one point they quickly shoved an item into the side box and unknowingly hit the fire extinguisher causing it to release its contents.
In these situations there is always an off-white powder covering everything inside. It makes a giant mess. That fine powder gets into absolutely everything.
I have to be honest, when I see this I usually have to turn away because it makes me chuckle a bit. Come on! It is kind of funny! But, as you can imagine, the person who has to clean this mess doesn’t think is very funny at all!
The lesson here is secure your fire extinguisher and remove the risk of getting what I call the "snow globe side box."
Something Smells Fishy?
This next one happened very early in my career when I was still stationed at the Port Of Entry at the Minnesota border. It was a normal day when a guy driving a box type truck entered the port as he is required to do.
When the truck got on to the scale we turned the red light on to stop the truck and the driver mashed on the gas and took off. That's when we noticed the driver was wearing a gas mask and full chemical protection suit!
We were thinking to ourselves what the heck is going on? Is this guy driving a bomb? Does he have a chemical agent he is trying to put out and hurt people? It seemed like a very peculiar and possibly dangerous situation so we radioed out to have a trooper find and stop the truck to make sure he was not a threat to the public.
There were troopers looking for this truck for quite some time when they finally located the truck at a truck stop in Sioux Falls. When approached for questioning, the driver tried to explain he was no threat. His load just stunk really badly!
Just to make sure, the truck's back door was breeched and in the truck on the floor was about 1,000 pounds of ice and fish. Just thrown on the floor. He was delivering the fish to various restaurants in Sioux Falls (yikes) and because of the very awful smell he was wearing the suit to not have to smell the fish!
We are always taught to take every situation as it comes and not second guess our judgment. If it looks wrong, it is probably wrong. But in this situation it just smelled bad!
Time For a Brake
This happened to a co-worker of mine a few years ago. It was once again a normal day. A truck was weighed and found to be overweight. They brought the driver around and gave him the bad news: a citation for being overweight and he would have to get the weight legal. The driver was upset about the situation.
They completed the paperwork and the driver tried to adjust his weight and he just couldn't get it shifted enough to be legal. We directed him to attempt the axle slide one more time and if he couldn’t get it that final time he would have to call for a service to move the freight inside the trailer.
He tried one more time and over the P.A. system we had to give him the bad news that it didn’t work. At that point the driver was very upset and he raced his truck back to the parking lot, jumped out, and ran into the port hopping mad. But just as he was about to speak to an officer we noticed his truck rolling.
He forgot to set his brakes!
At our scale the lot is on a bit of an incline, so water runs into the very large ditch beside the interstate. We watched as the truck rolled down the lot, between two trucks waiting to get weighted and rolled right into the ditch!
The driver, determined to not pay a very expensive towing bill got into his truck and drove his truck all over the ditch. He actually did manage to get out of the ditch and he went down the interstate, turned around and got back to the port.
The truck was, understandably, a bit beat up, however in all his crazy driving in the ditch his load shifted in his trailer and... his weights were perfect!
The lesson here is always check your brakes to make sure they are set no matter what the situation is. AND always, ALWAYS weigh your load!
This following is a lesson I learned early in my career, and definitely the hard way. You must always follow policy no matter what. I dealt with a little tank truck that was overweight. This is a fairly normal violation for an officer in Motor Carrier. However, this gentleman was carrying Sheepshead Carp; fish that are eaten in some places, although I can’t imagine why one would ever want to.
Anyway, a policy of the HP is no dumping of any product ever. The products must be off loaded onto another truck or trailer. But for some reason when the driver said he basically just had a large tank of fish and water, and "can I just dump some water into the ditch and then I can be legal very quickly?" I thought to myself how can this go wrong? It’s just water!
So I allowed the driver to back up to the ditch and dump off just enough water to be legal. Well as he put his hose out and starting dumping I noticed something that wasn’t quite right.
Right along with the water, the fish were also being dumped into the ditch. Not just one or two but probably closer to 25! Now I was really up a creek without a paddle.
I called my Sargent and he said, “Why the hell did you not follow policy?!” After catching all the fish and getting them back into the tank I was happy to end that inspection. I no longer ignore policies, no matter what the circumstance, because if you do you end up smelling like carp.
But Iowa Said I Could!
While working on a Sunday afternoon in Chamberlain my partner found a driver of a pickup and large trailer hauling for hire who had been drinking... a lot! It was pretty obvious with all the empties in the box of his truck.
When my partner questioned him about it he simply said,” Iowa said I could.” We were a bit confused and we asked him to explain. The driver stated that Iowa law says that if you only have one open in the drivers’ compartment at a time and keep all your empties in the box of the truck you’re not breaking any laws.
Needless to say, that "law abiding citizen" went to jail that day because South Dakota said so.
The Port-of-Entry 500
This last story is from another experienced officer at our port. One day a truck approached, but wasn’t sure how to get weighted. He just didn’t understand the concept. It was explained to him that we have a platform scale and we weigh one set of axles at a time so we will have to stop the truck 3 times to get all 5 axles weighted.
The driver said, “I got it.” So he drove onto the scale, and stopped on his steer axles. The light turned green and the driver took off and drove around the building and crossed the scale again, only this time he stopped on his drive axles.
We were a bit confused but figured he is very light so we wanted to let it play out. We gave the green light again, and sure enough the driver drove around the building again crossed the scale and stoped on his trailer axles. The inspectors were just rolling at this point. It was pretty funny.
He got the green light again. The driver came back around, parked and came into the port. He saw we are laughing pretty hard because this had never happened before. He was pretty embarrassed because he knew he messed up. He just said, “I'm guessing I could have done that in one pass?”
I bet he never made that mistake again.
When you're a DOT officer, you have to enjoy your work and see the life lessons in all that you do, even if the humor comes at your own expense. Who knows, you may just be the next truck driver to make our favorite story list! Please keep trucking safe!!!