Reporting Robbie Owens
DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - On restricted stretches of Dallas county highway, Sheriff’s deputies play a cat and mouse game with truckers hauling hazardous cargo. Federal law limits highway routes for hazardous chemicals — keeping truckers away from densely populated areas like downtown and the canyon — where a fire would be difficult to fight. Still, many truckers consider the tickets– sometimes $500– simply part of the cost of doing business.
“It’s a corrosive chemical of some sort,” says Deputy Ben Roberts, as a Dallas county sheriff’s deputy pulls over a tanker exiting the Woodall Rogers canyon. “This is probably a 5,000 gallon tank and he just drove it straight down Woodall Rogers.”
Dallas police officers, even firefighters can cite truckers caught hauling hazardous cargo on restricted routes. But, the bulk of the enforcement falls to a nine member Commercial Vehicle Enforcement team within the sheriff’s department. A CBS 11 news crew accompanied deputies doing enforcement Friday morning.
In spite of signs warning truckers hauling hazardous chemicals away from the downtown canyon and Woodall Rogers freeway, sheriff’s deputies were barely in position before they began pulling over tanker truckers hauling restricted cargo — everything from jet fuel to chemical waste.
“He knows full well he’s not supposed to be here,” says Deputy Roberts of the cited driver. “He’s willing to take that chance.”
According to Deputy Roberts, truckers send out warnings when enforcement teams are spotted. But, on this morning many didn’t get the word. Three tanker trucks were pulled over on Woodall Rogers within a matter of minutes. Two of the big rigs were hauling full loads of fuel.
Deputy Roberts gestures to the two trucks. “88-hundred there, 88-hundred there. You have over 16,000 gallons of fuel in this immediate area. What if the two of them combined got into a wreck? Unfathomable, I don’t even want to think about what would happen. It would be horrible.”
And as terrifying as it sounds… fire, experts say, that would be the best case scenario.
“What if it was chemicals? You’re really trapped, there’s absolutely nothing you could do.”
In 1976, a tanker truck carrying anhydrous ammonia crashed in Houston. The gas cloud it created killed seven people and injured many more. Every day in Dallas, hazardous cargo travels beneath a deck park where children and families gather — Klyde Warren Park.
Repeated citations may discourage some drivers but, deputies say truckers return as soon as the enforcement teams move on. After all, there are always more problems waiting in other areas of the county. Sheriff’s deputies patrol nearly 700 miles of highway lanes and there’s only so much the nine member team can do. Then, there are those truckers who when faced with a 40 mile detour around the city, are willing to take the chance.
“Truckers aren’t getting paid if they’re not moving so they’re going to look for the short cut… so if he can not sit on [interstate] 30 an hour in traffic… I guarantee, he’s going to do that because that’s how he makes money.”
It’s an enforcement fight that deputy Roberts takes personally given his wife and daughter were rear-ended by an 18-wheeler in May.
“He never stopped, never hit his breaks. They believe he fell asleep… almost killed both of them,” recalls Deputy Roberts. He says, following the accident, he began to see his job with new purpose. “Anything we can do to keep these people in line. We’re doing our part and that makes me feel good about what we do.”
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