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Sen. Phil Murphy , Published December 07 2013

Letter: A wild ride on Bakken highways

We climbed into the patrol car on a dark Sunday morning at 6 with a light rain freezing on the windshield. I was getting a firsthand look at what it is like to be a sheriff’s deputy in North Dakota’s Bakken Oil Patch by riding shotgun out of Killdeer on the first day of December.

A couple of miles out of city limits, radar showed a tanker truck doing 15 mph over the limit. Disco lights went on with a siren whoop, and a quick turnaround. The truck pulled over as the officer pushed buttons on the dash computer, which told the command center the situation. He turned on the searchlight and swept the truck before getting out. The deputy is the K-9 guy; as soon as he cracked the door, the dog let loose full-on.

The officer climbed the steps to speak with the driver, keeping his left hand back at his belt near flashlight and Taser, while clinging to the handle on the truck with his right. He came back with the driver’s license and checked his record. From Georgia; good to go and returned with whatever words of warning or ticket the deputy delivered.

Hustling back, he cranked the squad SUV with lights still on into traffic and floored it to catch up to a vehicle fading in the distance.

We caught him and he pulled over. Lights pulsing, searchlight sweeping, computer working, traffic roaring, door cracked open and dog barking; I see a pattern. This driver gave the officer a hard time, telling him he hated (expletive) cops, while the flashlight played inside the vehicle and the left hand again stayed back on the utility belt. Returning with the license, the dog stops barking. South Carolina, with speeding tickets from North Dakota.

Meanwhile, the state radio dispatcher is calling officers to north and west of us, as freezing rain begins to take its toll in McKenzie County. Highways 22 are 85 are piling them up: two semis head-on, two pickups head-on, one semi rolled over with the driver bleeding and cargo over the road, a car just over the county line with a driver injured and waiting for help.

It’s not my first rodeo. It has been my great fortune over the years to do ride-alongs in Hennepin County (downtown Minneapolis) and in California with a game warden after poachers. They all frightened me, as did this one in Dunn County.

My drive back on Highway 200 was within the speed limit as I thought of how I could probably not do that officer’s job, and certainly would not want to. I hoped for his safety and the others out there every day.

But especially that Dunn County K-9 guy I rode with. He is my son.

Murphy, D-Portland, represents District 20 in the North Dakota Senate.