Safety was the goal this week as law enforcement conducted traffic stops along the interstate in Sumter County, whether that be in protecting travelers from aggressive motorists, teens and adults from illegal drugs or their fellow deputies from dangerous suspects.
Hundreds of grams of drugs and nearly a dozen firearms were seized during the second-annual Operation Ice Storm in Sumter this week when local, state and federal agencies teamed up to put a freeze on illegal activity on Interstate 95. One suspect who was later arrested injured a Sumter deputy in his failed attempt to flee a traffic stop.
The Sumter County Sheriff's Office hosted the operation Monday through Thursday that involved help from the Clarendon County Sheriff's Office, Lee County Sheriff's Office, Lake City Police Department, Florence County Sheriff's Office, S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Drug Enforcement Administration.
During the operation, officers patrolled the interstate, historically a major corridor for drug trafficking along the East Coast, stopping drivers for everyday traffic violations such as improper lane changes, speeding, following too close behind another vehicle and distracted driving to encourage safety and correct potentially dangerous driving behaviors.
"These officers worked through the night - from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. - this week to not only keep drugs out of the area but to make sure drivers are making safe decisions on the road," Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis said.
Deputies who participate in this kind of operation are trained to look for subtly evasive driving maneuvers and other signs indicating potential involvement in criminal acts.
During a traffic stop Wednesday night, a driver who refused to get out of his vehicle began to drive away and dragged an officer from the Clarendon County Sheriff's Office. The officer was transported to the hospital for minor injuries and was later released.
He was back on the road assisting in the operation the next day.
The driver, 31-year-old Steven Davis, of Montgomery Street in Savannah, Georgia, led officers on a brief chase after the Clarendon officer fell to the ground, according to Adrienne Sarvis, public information officer for the sheriff's office. The chase went from the northbound rest area at the 139 mile marker to Vega Lane off S.C. Highway 53 after taking exit 141.
He was searched and placed under arrest. He was also transported to Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital after stating he was injured and was transported to the Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center upon medical release.
Davis has been charged with failure to stop for blue lights, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, possession of marijuana, trafficking methamphetamine, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of a controlled substance.
The next day, officers walked along the side of I-95 with two Sumter K-9 units who located a bag suspected to have been discarded by the suspect during the pursuit containing two vacuum-sealed packages of suspected marijuana, meth and possibly other drugs.
A total of 259 traffic stops resulted in the seizure of 1,404 grams of marijuana, 110 grams of cocaine, 500 grams of methamphetamine and 10 firearms during the four-day operation.
Tyler Urquhart, with the Criminal Enforcement Unit in the Special Operations Division at the Florence County Sheriff's Office, took The Sumter Item along to observe the operation on Thursday.
As the 10 or so officers returned to their vehicles after locating the discarded purse-sized bag of drugs from Wednesday's pursuit, a driver honked at the line of patrol vehicles from the lane directly next to the shoulder in which the vehicles and we were all in.
Urquhart, having just got back into his car on the driver's side, flipped on his blue lights and pulled the motorist over.
After speaking with her, he returned to his vehicle. A 2002 law requires motorists to switch to the non-adjacent lane or slow down when passing emergency vehicles, law enforcement, construction crews, etc., when their lights are flashing.
"You know she said?" Urquhart said when he got back to his vehicle. "I said, 'Next time, move over.' She said, 'Next time, get out the road.'"
He got back out to hand her a $1,000 ticket.
Sumter County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Bryan Rulong said he wishes everyone "would drive the way they do when they see us. That would solve all the problems."
Sumter County is already approaching the total number of fatalities in vehicle accidents it had all last year - in March. Rulong said most of the fatal collisions have been single-vehicle crashes and a vehicle hitting a pedestrian, largely due to distracted, aggressive or impaired driving.
He said Operation Ice Storm enlists teams of "very experienced and very versed" officers to help keep roadways safe from dangerous drivers and neighborhoods safe from illegal drugs and firearms.
"I-95 is well-known, it's been called Cocaine Lane, but in today's world it's shifting from cocaine to heroin," he said. "This whole operation is about safety. Safety from traffic collisions, safety from traffic deaths and safety for our officers."
Sheriff Dennis said after the second time of doing this operation that it was successful and will be conducted again.
"The dedication these officers have to keeping the community safe can be seen in the long hours they put in," he said. "Especially the officer from Clarendon County who was right back on the road the next day after he was injured."
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