CLEARWATER, Fla. — Police in Clearwater are cracking down on a dangerous driving hotspot. In just a 15-hour span this weekend, officers caught drunk drivers, motorcyclists behaving badly and swerving drivers nearly causing crashes on U.S. Highway 19.
U.S. 19 is a never-ending battle for Clearwater PD. The speed limit is 55 mph but officers caught people going well over twice that speed.
“It’s a straight, for lack of better terms, drag strip," said Sgt. Christian Zarra with Clearwater PD.
The agency shared videos with us of motorcycles zooming past and in a separate video, a rider doing wheelies in the middle of traffic. An officer was behind him.
These are some examples of bad driving Sgt. Zarra sees every day out on U.S. 19.
“Pinellas County is becoming a raceway and drivers are getting worse and worse," he said.
One of the most common offenders are motorcyclists.
"They are easily concealed and they are easily lost in the crowds," Zarra said.
Out of the seven busted in this weekend's crackdown on U.S. 19, Shane Dugan was driving the fastest. He hit 135 mph on his bike. According to arrest records, he ignored their sirens and continued for 10 miles under the watchful eye of a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office helicopter. When he came to a stop at an apartment complex parking lot, he was taken into custody.
He told officers, "I'm not a bad guy, I just like to speed," according to documents.
"If he wants to speed then go on a track. Rent a track and drive in a closed course. If you want the thrill of seeing if you can get caught or not then you can come on the roads and you'll encounter us and we're going to show you the error of your ways," said the officer.
He says motorcycles, especially, can prove deadly in a crash.
“It’s a steel and fiberglass missile," said Zarra about motorcycles, "It’ll go through a car and more than likely they kill the occupants in the vehicle.”
Clearwater Police gave ABC Action News access to a ride-along. From the backseat, we saw exactly what officers are trying to pump the brakes on.
“I’d really like you to slow down," Zarra told a motorcyclist he stopped for speeding and weaving in and out of traffic.
Zarra wrote him a ticket.
“There’s no better way you can hurt someone than to reach into their wallet," he said.
In a revealing exchange, Zarra asks the motorcyclist to think about his safety and that of others on the road.
“For the most part I’m pretty careful but that [U.S. 19], man, it’s like a roller coaster," said the motorcyclist.
“And it's fun? It’s like the draw?” Zarra asked the motorcyclist.
“It’s almost like you can’t help it," responded the motorcyclist.
This is a prime example of why the hotspot must be a priority.
“If we don’t keep up on it, it’ll just creep back up," Zarra said. He calls it muscle memory.
"Every time they get on [U.S. 19], their [motorists] body knows ‘I should probably take my foot off that skinny pedal on the right,'" he said.
On our watch, Zarra busted two more people. A driver of a Ford Explorer was speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. When Zarra stopped him the driver told him he had a haircut appointment for his son he was trying to make. Minutes later, Zarra busted a rider and his passenger for unsafe behavior including switching between lanes. He gave them a written warning.
These officers serve as reminders of the big price for a couple of seconds of cheap thrill. Zarra warns the motorists they're better off learning their lesson from him. He spoke about a case two years ago on a Black Friday. He stopped a motorcyclist for going more than 100 mph. He set a case date for trial but says the motorcyclist never made it. Weeks after Zarra stopped him, the rider slammed into the side of a car at 120 mph and died. He also severely hurt the people in the car, said Zarra.
“Drive careful, alright?" Zarra told the motorcyclist, "I don’t want to have to tell your parents you and your brother riding side by side got splattered.”
Clearwater PD vows to keep doing these crackdowns on the regular and hope drivers and riders will get the message to follow the law.