Scott Johnson

Our recent “January Thaw” brought a reprieve from frigid temperatures and snow. That’s a good thing as road crews are finally making a dent in the mountains of snow. It has been difficult finding places to put it. We have received a number of calls this winter from residents about neighbors piling snow onto their property.

As Minnesotans, we know that when it snows, traffic lanes can be about impossible to see. We learn early in our driving careers to just go with the flow. Where the tire tracks are from the previous vehicle, is where the traffic lane now is, regardless of whether they coincide with lane markings. This works pretty well until enough snow disappears and we can once again see the markings.

Unfortunately, one night while on patrol years ago it did not work out so well. The snow was falling hard and I had not seen another car on the road for hours. I pulled over to the shoulder of a county road to check on a car parked on the shoulder. As I was preparing to open my squad car door, I glanced in my rear view mirror. What I saw was the headlights from a vehicle following my tracks right onto the shoulder and into the rear of my police car. Oh well, there wasn’t a lot of damage and nobody was injured.

As Minnesota drivers, we also learn early to distinguish between tire tracks in the snow and other tracks. Grand Rapids police officers scratched their heads a couple of weeks ago when they received a call of a vehicle stuck in the snow on the railroad tracks that cross Pokegama Avenue. They arrived expecting to find the vehicle on Pokegama Avenue. Instead, the vehicle was on the railroad tracks to the east. Apparently, the driver had not yet mastered the subtle art of Minnesota driving. He turned onto the railroad tracks believing they were a city street. He didn’t’ get too far.

Winter is also a time when Minnesota drivers learn humility. Police officers are no exception. We learn not to be too quick to criticize other drivers who get stuck in the snow. After all, we have all been there. Two weeks ago, one of our officers tried to make his way to a call. He mistook hard packed snow for a street and promptly turned onto it. Snowmobile tracks can fool you that way.

Sometimes, maneuvering in the snow can be downright embarrassing. One of the reasons why we assign a marked police squad car to our School Resource Officers is to make it known that an officer is in the school. The squad car is normally parked in a very visible parking space in the lot in front of the school. The other morning School Resource Officer Micki Norris arrived at the school and was practicing the fine art of maneuvering her squad car into the parking space between a pickup truck and the ever-widening snowbank. You can probably guess the rest. The front corner of the squad car creased the side of the vehicle in the adjacent parking stall.

So, there Micki sat, school buses arriving, parents dropping off children and the all too conspicuous fender bender involving a police car. To add salt to the wound, her name will now be added to a plaque displayed on the police station squad room wall that includes officers who have been involved in a fender bender that was avoidable. Believe me, officers don’t want their name on this plaque. When Micki returned to the station, her fellow officers gave her the ribbing she so richly deserved as she tried blaming the snowbank. They didn’t let her get off that easy.

Sometimes it is difficult to even identify a vehicle with all this snow. I am not talking about the snowballs travelling down the road on four wheels with a little area of the windshield cleared off. Instead, I am talking about the call that Officer Tim Dirkes received the other day. It seems that plow crews were pushing snow back away from the curb on Northwest 17th Street in anticipation of the next snowstorm. They were working on a ten-foot tall snowbank alongside the street. What they did not know was that there was an automobile buried within. The owner was contacted and told about the damage done by the plow. His reply was in typical Minnesota fashion, “Oh well. I will wait and deal with it in the spring.”

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