Mud-riding: No easy answers

Published 10:11 pm Friday, March 14, 2014

When Commissioner Homer Wright heard Sunday’s forecast for an 80 percent chance of rain, he knew exactly what that would mean for Pike County’s dirt roads.

“It’s going to be a mess,” he said. “Typical teenagers – and a lot of grown folks too –playing in the mud.”

Commissioners have heard loud and clear how residents feel about the damage people are doing to the county’s dirt roads mud-riding in trucks and four-wheelers. The solution to the problem has not been as clear.

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“People are glad we’re trying to put our foot down and enforce the law,” Wright said. “But, it’s going to have to be a community thing if you want to see it stop.”

Each time a county dirt road is damaged by joyriders, the county must spend $1,000 to $2,500 to repair it.

Pike County Sheriff Russell Thomas said he has a personal interest in the condition of Pike County’s dirt roads.

“There are five of us, including the sheriff, that live on dirt roads,” he said. “And the deputies understand it. You have a lot of people come to different places. We all experience that. It’s not just one county road.”

Prosecuting the guilty parties is not a simple task, he said, because most of the cases fall under criminal mischief, a misdemeanor.

While a suspect can be charged with a felony if probable cause can be established, misdemeanors must be witnessed. And people are not reporting the incidents as they happen.

“We hardly ever get a phone call about tearing up those dirt roads,” Thomas said.

Pike County resident Debra Davis was an exception. She witnessed a Goshen man destroying a road in her area and signed a warrant and the man was convicted in traffic court.

Davis said the problem is widespread, not just in the northwest part of the county where she resides. “It’s just lawlessness. I don’t know what else to call it,” Davis said.

She surmised that if the damage could be traced to one person, the expenses would easily add up to a felony.

“Every time they go out and tear the road, that’s money out of my pocket and your pocket to fix it,” she said. “And the conviction last (month) was the first I’m aware of – that should tell you something is wrong.”

Wright said most people do not want to follow through with a complaint as Davis did. That is why the number of convictions is not as high as he would like it to be.

“A lot of people don’t want to do that. But, if you turn them in we’ll back you 100 percent,” Wright said.

Meanwhile, the sheriff said deputies constantly patrol the dirt roads. Sometimes, they get lucky.

“(Last) Friday night, a deputy patrolling spotted someone mudding and he fled. We expect to arrest him in a day or two,” Thomas said. “There’s always things ongoing. We don’t always talk about it.”

During the summers, deputies frequent the places people go four-wheeling and check drivers’ licenses as well as the identification plates on the vehicles. The plates are similar to VIN numbers on cars. If riders cannot prove ownership, the vehicles are confiscated.

Witnessing the crimes and reporting them will be the key to curbing the reckless driving and damages to properties associated with mud-riding.

“We have to operate according to the codes of Alabama,” Thomas said. “We can’t break the law to enforce the law.”