Sheriff Casey, Town Trustees Consider OHV Enforcement for 2019 Summer Season

Although no action items were on the agenda at Town of Lake City’s Wednesday, February 20 meeting, during the workshop Sheriff Justin Casey addressed the Board of Trustees regarding the topic of traffic enforcement, specifically focusing on Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs).
Trustees Dave Roberts, Jeff Heaton, Richard Moore, Jud Hollingsworth and Marty Priest were present, as well as Mayor Bruce Vierheller and Town Manager Caroline Mitchell; Trustee Alan Rae and Town Clerk Jamie Turrentine were absent.
As SILVER WORLD readers and Lake City locals may have ascertained, the town is engaged in an ongoing discussion as to whether OHVs should be allowed on Town streets. A petition to ban OHVs was submitted to the Town January 3, and two protests to that petition were received February 6.
An OHV compromise work group was created to assist the Town in finding solutions, the results of which were presented to trustees at the February 20 workshop (full report in February 22 WORLD). A special meeting was called by the Town February
27 to discuss with the public the findings of the work group, a full report of which will appear in the March 8 issue of SILVER WORLD.
At the February 27 meeting, it was announced that the protests presented were deemed insufficient to halt the petition, and that the Town will go to a special election, the date for which has not yet been set.
Sheriff Casey was accompanied at the February 20 meeting by Deputy Jordan Kaminski. Casey began by saying, “A sheriff’s job is to implement the rules that the Town makes. But, as you change the rules, education has to start over. This is a big hurtle for us in a tourism-driven economy. Education is important so people can understand the rules and be able to follow them. We want people to come back here. We have been diligent about enforcement; everyone should know that enforcement is happening.”
Casey said that OHVs, as the ordinance stands now, have to abide by normal traffic rules. “We are always looking at driving behavior,” he said, “and if we see unsafe driving behavior, we use an appropriate level of enforcement to address that.”
When asked about one of the options the work group offered, an OHV route around town, Casey said that routes can be an effective tool, but that they have to be all-or-nothing.
He said, “We have to have probable cause to pull someone over. For us to pull over every OHV which might be off-route, it puts us in a gray area. We don’t want deputies pulling people over who should not be getting pulled over.”
Casey went on to say that it is his opinion the Sheriff’s Office needs to continue to follow the 2002 ruling of Judge Patrick allowing licensed OHVs to drive anywhere any other vehicle is allowed, and to be treated the same as any other licensed vehicle.
“So that means,” he said, “a licensed OHV is just a motor vehicle and can’t be held to the route. It’s something to think about, because it muddies the water for us. Obviously the earliest we get a decision, the better, because people coming to visit this summer are going to need to know the plan.”
Casey said that in his experience, most people want to be compliant. “They want to know the rules so they can follow them. If the rules change right before summer, and people have tried really hard to get all the information they needed in order to follow the rules — and the rug gets pulled out from under them — we will have unhappy people who will not return.”
Another idea that has been debated between Town Trustees and the community is the idea for local OHV riders to be given stickers identifying them as locals; Casey advised Trustees to seek legal counsel regarding this, as it could be viewed as discrimination.
Casey also said that the easiest thing to do, from not only an enforcement standpoint but also from an education standpoint, would be to leave the OHV ordinance as it is now.
Trustee Dave Roberts said, “I just want to state the obvious: time is of the essence. This debate is the biggest question I’m getting when I talk to people out-of-state who are considering coming this summer. Business owners are starting to ask questions. This is an urgent issue. We sure are going to have mud on our faces if people get here this summer and they can’t do what they came here to do.”
Mayor Vierheller said, “Well, for now, we do have an ordinance in place. [When] this goes to a vote, it would be after the summer season is over this year.”
Casey agreed that having the ordinance change prior to the 2019 summer season would be the worst case scenario, and the later in the year that the ordinance is changed, the easier it will be to get the information to the public and re-educate people for upcoming tourist seasons.