As Wednesday’s early morning sun rose and eventually glared into the eyes of eastbound drivers on Route 302, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Habitual Offender Strike Force manned a checkpoint at Raymond Beach in an attempt to apprehend drivers who were operating with suspended licenses.

From 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. motorists were randomly pulled out of traffic and into the parking lot so deputies could check for a valid driver’s license. The entire procedure generally took no more than a minute or two as the deputies passed out cards explaining the reason for the check and recorded license numbers to run through the state’s computer system later in the day.

Cumberland County Sheriff Mark Dion, who has instigated several of these checkpoints in various locations over the last few months, was on hand for Wednesday’s operation. He said the department was successful in their previous checkpoints, uncovering 34 drivers with suspended licenses.

According to Capt. William Rhoads of the Sheriff’s Office, the operation resulted in 21 traffic summons/warnings for registration and inspection violations; one summons for possession of marijuana; and one arrest, Corey O’Connor, 19, of Casco, on an outstanding warrant for failure to appear on charges of criminal mischief.

The license numbers from the operation will be run through the state’s computer system to determine if any of the licenses has been suspended. Deputies stopped a total of 576 cars.

State Senator Bill Diamond D-Windham chairs the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. Diamond was present at the checkpoint Dion set up recently in Gray and watched as deputies stopped a commercial truck driver who had 24 violations.

Diamond, who is sponsoring legislation that would require jail time for those who repeatedly drive with a suspended license, said that many people just assume others on the road are safe drivers. But many of them are driving without a valid license.

As for the checkpoints, Diamond said, “I think they’re absolutely wonderful. I hope more police agencies will do what Sheriff Dion is doing.”

Dion began the program prior to the accident that brought the issue to the forefront in Maine this summer. In that accident, commercial trucker Scott Hewitt, 32, drove his tractor-trailer into a car driven by 40-year-old Tina Turcotte of Scarborough. Turcotte was trapped inside for over an hour and died from her injuries a few days later.

At the time of the crash, Hewitt was driving with a suspended license. In fact, his record included 23 license suspensions, 63 driving convictions and involvement in a previous fatal accident. Even with this extensive record, prosecutors were unable to charge him with vehicular manslaughter.

Back in April, Dion put together a list of the area’s worst suspended license offenders. With the list in place, deputies can stake out many of these individuals at their homes to see if the offenders get behind the wheel.

Statistics for repeat offenders are grim with those who continue to drive being four times more likely to cause a fatal accident, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Dion believes these stakeouts and checkpoints have deterred some from driving by making them realize they could be picked up at any moment.

“The mere fact that they’re driving with a suspended license means we’re going to take serious action,” Dion said.

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