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December 4, 2013

Cherokee County license and weight officer makes believers out doubters

CHEROKEE COUNTY — CHEROKEE COUNTY — Back in 1996, authorities were unsure Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Terry Wayne Roach could survive being blindsided in his vehicle by a careless driver.

More than 17 years later, Roach is alive and well — now an energetic, enthusiastic Texas DPS retiree who recently was hired as Cherokee County's newest license and weight officer.

Roach, who began in February, is charged with monitoring the abuse of county roads — tracking down, weighing and giving tickets to truckers exceeding weight limits.

There were some tense moments between commissioners when they first debated hiring Roach. A few of them weren't completely sure an L&W officer was needed.

But Roach's superlative job performance during the past 10 or so months has made believers out of most, if not all, of them.

"I was originally one of the commissions who was against hiring a new L&W officer, but I have been pleasantly surprised," explained Precinct 2 Commissioner Steven Norton. "I'm really happy with the job he has done. He takes care of all four precincts and has helped me with a lot of projects. It is getting so everyone knows who to call now."

Roach — reached by cell phone on the road — said he's enjoying helping get the license and weight program into place the way commissioners want it.

"As a member of the highway patrol, I handled a lot of tractor trailers anyway … and  I have common knowledge of any vehicle  after my 26 years with the Texas DPS," he said.

The way Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis describes it, a less-than-effective officer would probably attract attention and chatter from residents and local officials. This, he said, has definitely not been the case with Roach.

"It's been very quiet out there — which I guess means it's working," the judge said. "In this kind of situation, no news is good news, and I am not hearing anything much at all. As far as I can tell, he is doing exactly what he's supposed to do. I have heard nothing to the contrary."

Precinct 3 Cherokee County Commissioner Katherine W. Pinotti agreed.

"He seems organized, always available, and has kept me informed of activity in my precinct," she said. "He stays on top of everything. I'm telling you. He has found a couple of logging concerns on roads I didn't know had those problems. He polices the whole county and tries to get to a different precinct every day. I see him at least twice a week."

Norton said it is important for Cherokee to remain lawful and a friendly county for loggers and truckers to pass through. And he believes Roach manages to walk a delicate balance to make that happen.

As stated earlier, commissioners haven't always agreed on this issue.  After the resignation of the second L&W official — former Jacksonville PD officer Ricky Moore, in 2012 — some commissioners were reluctant to select a replacement because they saw cutting the position as an opportunity to save tax dollars.  

Pinotti said she also believed that for awhile.

"I, too, was opposed to reinstating this program in the beginning, feeling I could handle the responsibilities on my own, as the others could in their own precincts," she wrote in a recent blog. "Boy was I wrong!"

Pinotti said she realized after a few months that she could not perform L&W duties in addition to her own responsibilities as a commissioner.

"I was very pleased that Commissioner (Kelly) Traylor brought this item up for review and glad that it was passed to reinstate this position," she said.

Reinstating the L&W officer position reignited debate. Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Traylor contended a license and weight officer is needed in the county because of rain-afflicted roads. Norton countered that an L&W officer might drive away business crucial to the county.

The matter came to a boil in January as commissioners formally voted on the issue.

After significant debate,  a 3-2 vote reinstated the program.

Traylor, who put the item on the agenda for vote, voted yes. Pinotti also voted yes, as did Precinct 4 Commissioner Byron Underwood. Davis and Norton voted against it. Commissioners also passed a budget amendment for $40,000 to pay for the program, voting along similar lines.

After the decision to hire Roach was made, commissioners appointed senior commissioner Underwood as his

supervisor.

Roach said the  accident in which  was injured seems like a very long time ago. It was October 23, 1996 as Roach was conducting a traffic stop in the 1000 block of N. Jackson, in front of Sweet Union Apartments.

Roach's patrol unit and the person he stopped, were parked on the shoulder of N. Jackson. Roach's patrol unit had its overhead emergency lights activated and it was positioned behind the violator’s vehicle. He made his initial contact with the person he had stopped and obtained driver’s license and proof of liability insurance.

Roach returned to his patrol unit, and a vehicle traveling in the same direction as Roach struck the rear of his patrol unit, causing the patrol unit to collide with the violator’s vehicle.

Roach was taken to the hospital and survived the accident. But he never truly thought his life was in danger, as others

clearly did.

"I never considered that the horrible six or eight broken ribs and thigh injury could do that," he said. "But, then again, I didn't know what my internal injuries were at

the time."

Ultimately, Roach recalled, he was only in the hospital for three

days max.

Prior to his retirement, he was granted a special commission as a Texas Ranger in honor of his service.

Roach said the Texas DPS is basically run like a highway military operations with checks and balances and supervisory officers. It's quite a bit different from his current job, in which Underwood is his only supervisor.

Roach said he is not on the job to see how many tickets he can write people, and he tries his best to give fair latitude to loggers and truckers coming through Cherokee County. Trucks that weigh about 80,000 pounds and are only 4,000 pounds over the limit probably aren't going to get more than a warning, he said.

"I hope to be a help more than a hinderance," Roach said. "I give people a warning nine times out of ten. These people make a living in the woods, and I really admire them. But still, we have some rules."

Neither Commissioners Underwood nor Traylor were available to comment Tuesday.

 

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