A few NASCAR wannabes chanced upon Kentucky State Police’s “Gray Ghost” back in the 1990s. They had a fast car; fast enough to make speed demons pay.
The swift 1986 Ford Mustang sported the stock grey KSP paint job; but its consummate driver, the gutsy Roy Wolfe, was anything but average. Around the holidays, he hooked the heavy-footed, hammered and hurried Black Friday shopper.
Nowadays, there’s a new trooper stomping around town — and there are penalties to pay.
On Wednesday, senior Trooper First Class Jim Ryland hit the highways and backroads, honing in on drivers within the four counties Ashland’s KSP Post 14 cares for — Boyd, Greenup, Carter and Lawrence.
Most road units stick to one county, but Ryland is a STEP — or selective traffic enforcement — police unit, so he lurk in every nearby neighborhood around these parts.
He cautiously demonstrates the benefits of the six-month fall, holiday and New Year enforcement campaign dubbed Operation R.A.I.D. (Remove Aggressive, Impaired and Distracted drivers from Kentucky roadways).
The concentrated effort was developed by KSP post commanders and targets driving behaviors destined to cause commonwealth crashes. The mass effort began Nov. 1 and runs through April 30, 2013.
Ryland’s efforts are crucial since Thanksgiving is the most dangerous holiday of the year for motorists, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
It’s sunny and busy out on the Greenup County Industrial Parkway this morning and out-of-towners are headed home for Thanksgiving suppers. With a slick-top cruiser — no light bar on top — you may not spot Ryland slipping behind you on the rural thoroughfare.
He’s on the lookout for seat belt and car seat violations, swerving, broken vehicle equipment and high speeds.
Walking up to a violator’s car, the 13-year KSP veteran is markedly watchful.
“This is where troopers and officers get hurt time and again,” said the Grayson native, dutifully dealing out a citation for 79 in a 55-miles-per hour zone. The lawbreaker doesn’t have a driver’s license either.
“This is why I’m careful. One misstep is all it takes,” Ryland said. He busted two college football players a few years back driving 92 miles-per-hour on I-64. He found four pounds of marijuana in the car.
“This is where police work begins — out here on the road. A huge percentage of what we do starts at ground level. If you’re speeding or driving recklessly you just may be up to something bigger,” he said.
Although its objectives are the same statewide, Operation R.A.I.D. allows each state police post to tailor its operational plan to fit the region’s crash activity based on data and mapping systems. There’s visible enforcement in accident corridors, heightened roving patrols and additional safety checkpoints.
“This program is not about writing tickets; it is about enforcing traffic laws and bringing awareness to dangerous driving behaviors that cause crashes,” said KSP Director of Operations, Lt. Col. Jack Miniard.
Working alongside Ryland, Tpr. Zach Thompson is on the lookout for folks barreling through stop signs in Westwood. The Fairview High School graduate loves keeping his community safe. He’s one of a mass showing of state troopers traversing the region on this Thanksgiving tour of duty running through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.
With that, Thompson spots a minivan driver breaking the Boyd County laws.
Ryland stops to help two (fresh out of the academy) rookie troopers near Olive Hill at the traffic safety checkpoint positioned on the winding Ky. 1620, or Limestone Road.
“What can I do to help y’all?” he asks.
He’s proud to serve his KSP traffic beat — and attempt to follow in the, never to be forgotten, Gray Ghost’s tire tracks.
“The shoes of the ‘Gray Ghost’ are big ones to fill. I don’t know if I can fill ‘em, but I’ll try them on for size,” he said.