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Borman blitz pays off as accidents decrease

IndianState Police Sgt. WandClay tracks drivers for speeding tailgating volations from Cline Avenue ramp eastbound Borman Expressway Gary Ind. Wednesday

Indiana State Police Sgt. Wanda Clay tracks drivers for speeding and tailgating volations from the Cline Avenue ramp to the eastbound Borman Expressway in Gary, Ind. Wednesday December 5, 2012. After Clay determined a violation, she radioed other units posted on the Borman who would pull the driver over. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Borman
accidents

2012 (through Nov. 30):
3 fatals; 1,100 accidents*

2011:
5 fatals; 1,248 accidents

2010:
1 fatal; 1,366 accidents

*Approximate totals

Source: Indiana State Police

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Updated: January 13, 2013 6:08AM



It’s a bright, sunny December morning and traffic moves at a steady, speedy pace on the Borman Expressway.

The eight-lane expressway, from the Illinois state line to Porter County, is an endless marathon of rolling metal.

Cars glide around tractor-trailers carrying thousands of pounds of interstate commerce, including steel coils, Target merchandise and hazardous waste. Relaxed travelers are journeying on vacations, students to college campuses and workers are headed to jobs.

It’s a typical day on the Borman, named in honor of Gary-born astronaut Frank Borman.

Meanwhile, in a parking lot just north of the Borman’s Ripley Street exit, Indiana state troopers huddle around Sgt. Wanda Clay as she barks out instructions about their morning blitz.

They map their morning strategy before steering marked and unmarked Ford Mustangs and Dodge Chargers onto the Borman to hunt for speeders and tailgaters.

One year after a $300 million lane-widening project ended, State Police say their policing efforts are helping reduce accidents along Indiana’s busiest interstate. So far this year, there have been three fatalities on the highway, including one wrong-way driver. Troopers whose workplace is on the Borman always plan for the unexpected.

“The Borman is not a normal highway,” says Trooper Nedal Nabhan as he merges his marked Chevrolet Tahoe from Ripley onto the Borman. “It’s hard to predict serious crashes. We do our best to protect people.”

That same morning, Sgt. Clay received a wakeup call summoning her to a van-truck accident near Cline Avenue in Hammond. Clay, who heads the Lowell State Police District’s commercial vehicle enforcement division, is often on the scene when a truck is involved in a crash.

This call came about 5:15 a.m. after the driver of a Toyota minivan inexplicably drove off the road and into the rear of a disabled Mack truck that was pulling a box trailer. The impact split the trailer apart, scattering its load of car parts across three lanes of eastbound traffic. This crash closed down all the eastbound lanes for nearly two hours.

By 10 a.m., the debris is cleared and the Borman hums again with rolling trucks and cars. Nabhan and other troopers take their positions along the highway’s shoulder under Interstate 65.

In less than a minute, Master Trooper Russell Hayes aims his Tru-Cam laser gun at speeding traffic and delivers the description of a speeding red Chevrolet Cruze to Cpl. Bill Jones who sidelines the unhappy driver.

Within the two-hour blitz span, the 11 troopers stopped 71 vehicles, and wrote 38 tickets. The speeders were clocked at 65 mph or better on the 55-mph stretch of the highway. The rest got away with warnings and truck inspections.

Clay landed a grant that bought the software-enhanced blue laser speed guns that not only tag speeders but also tell police the time and distance between vehicles, while recording the image. A time less than 2 seconds is considered tailgating or following too closely. The fine averages about $140.

Despite the obvious police presence in the eastbound and westbound lanes, some vehicles still don’t slow down.

Nabhan moves behind a speeding motorist who hits the brakes and changes lanes. Nabhan changes lanes, too. As the motorist begins to pull over, Nabhan drives on, satisfied he encouraged the driver to slow down.

Clay is positioned on a hill off a Cline Avenue ramp, aiming the Tru-Cam at truckers who can’t see her until it’s too late. She’s spotted a trucker chatting on a cell phone in violation of a federal law. Clay alerts Trooper Tim Grayson who pulls the trucker over and discovers its brake lights aren’t working.

The driver gets a chance to fix the lights, but he can’t. Grayson escorts the truck to Love’s Travel Stop in Gary where the brake lights are fixed. An inspection slip allows the trucker to continue his trip.

Clay knows their efforts to slow down speeders and tailgaters are working. She overhears truckers chatting about “the blue gun” on their CB radios.

“I had my window down so I could hear the CB traffic. They see blue and they know. This has revolutionized the way to do our job.”



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