Maine State Trooper Douglas Cropper got a call that an elderly man was driving the wrong way down I-295 in Portland and was headed in his direction. The trooper was prepared to ram the vehicle, but was able to stop it by edging the nose of his patrol car onto the highway, forcing the driver to crash into him. No one was injured. This tactic successfully prevented the driver from proceeding onto a dangerous stretch of road where he could have caused fatalities. For his efforts, Cropper has been named the November Officer of the Month by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
It was June 29, 2012, the Friday kicking off Fourth of July weekend. Holiday traffic was already ramping up that afternoon, and Trooper Cropper's day was about to get more hectic. He was parked on the shoulder of I-295 clearing a traffic stop. He had just radioed in that he would attend to a wrong-way driver threat when he saw the vehicle in question heading toward him. It was traveling northbound in the southbound passing lane. Because other traffic was veering away to avoid the rogue car, Cropper was able to walk onto the roadway. He tried to flag down the 88-year-old driver, but he didn't see the trooper and kept on going. Cropper then knew he had to come up with a plan B, and fast.
Having dealt with his share of wrong-way drivers before, he didn't have to ponder his options too long. The one choice Cropper would not make was following the driver down the highway going the wrong direction. "If I had hit anybody, the liability would be on me," he says. Other options were to block the road or "spike mat" the wrong-way car, deflating its tires. But the trooper didn't think there was time for that. His biggest concern was stopping the vehicle before it got to a notorious section of the highway. Its extreme curves would make it near impossible for drivers heading in the correct direction to see the threat before it was too late.
"I knew I had to get to him before the crossover to Tukey's Bridge," Cropper says. "If not, there would be injuries and deaths." Determined not to let the driver get that far, he backed up the 50 or so feet down the nearest onramp so he could take surface streets and meet up with the driver further north on the highway.
What Cropper hadn't anticipated was the next two northbound onramps being closed down for construction. He was able to make his way through traffic using his lights and sirens and finally drive onto the highway at the third northbound onramp. He was just in time to see the wrong-way driver approaching, still heading straight into oncoming traffic in the southbound lanes.
"When I saw where he was and he was just prior to the crossover, I told the barracks I was going to ram him, and I would've if I'd had to," Cropper says. Instead, the trooper was able to put the front of his cruiser into the fast lane to effect a crash.
"He ripped my whole front bumper off," Cropper remembers. 'The crash deflated his tire and shut his car down."
The driver was stunned and confused, but unhurt. Cropper was also unharmed, and thanks to his intervention no one else was injured.
"This is not the first time I've had to deal with a wrong-way driver, but it's the first time I've had to physically stop one," Cropper says. He's satisfied with the way he handled the situation and with the outcome. Some citizens criticized the trooper for not issuing a citation to the driver, but he didn't see any point in fining him. Instead, he and his supervisor wrote letters requesting that the state suspend the man’s driver’s license so he'd be off the roads. "After the crash he said he was giving his license up, but the state did that for him," the trooper says.
As for the recognition he is receiving as NLEOMF Officer of the Month, Cropper says he was shocked when he was notified. "I still can't believe it," he says. "It is a great honor."
Learn more about the NLEOMF Officers of the Month program here.