WRAL Investigates

WRAL Investigates: How safe are N.C. rest areas?

Posted November 23, 2010

WRAL Investigates
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— Each year, an estimated 25 million drivers take a break at the 60 state-run rest areas across North Carolina. Most do so at their own risk.

The WRAL Investigates team found the state does not provide security at the rest stops, and law enforcement patrols are few and far between.

“We've had very few incidents, and it's something we're proud of, but we need to still maintain our attention to detail to make sure we have a safe facility,” said Don Lee, a roadside engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Lee manages the state's rest areas and says that attention to details includes design and lighting. Custodial staff members work at most rest stops from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but the DOT has no security force. That's left to local law enforcement and the Highway Patrol. One Johnston County rest area includes an office for troopers.

The state does not have a formal way to track crime at rest areas. However, in July, WRAL News reported that two men were robbed at gunpoint in a rest stop bathroom on Interstate 85 in Granville County. One man was shot and survived.

DOT officials call it an unfortunate, but rare rest area crime.

“Our whole goal here is to kind of give the public a feeling of assurance that they're in a safe environment,” said Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Jeff Gordon.

Troopers have reported about 16,000 patrol visits to the 60 rest areas so far this year, according to Gordon. That comes out to less than one trooper stop per rest area per day.

Earlier this month, a WRAL Investigates reporter randomly visited three rest areas for a total of six hours and never saw law enforcement.

“I would feel comfortable with my family going there. However, I would also tell them to err on the side of caution,” Gordon said.

How safe are N.C. rest areas? How safe are N.C. rest areas?

Most travelers WRAL News talked with said they follow that advice.

“This time of day, when it's bright and daytime, I don't have any problem with it,” said traveler Jim Finley. “Now, nighttime is a little different. We'd be hesitant to come here at night.”

Security cameras are above vending machines and are managed by the Division of Services for the Blind, which had them installed to deter vandalism. However, Lee says expanding the camera program is unlikely.

“With our so infrequent incidents, we are concerned about the cost of that application statewide,” he said.

With so few problems reported, increased patrols are not on the horizon either. The bottom line is that the millions who stop at North Carolina rest areas shouldn't expect round-the-clock security.

“We're going to provide the safest, cleanest place possible, but certainly common sense always needs to be used,” Lee said.

The DOT and Highway Patrol say it would be great to have armed security at rest stops, but it's not a realistic expectation given the state budget situation. The DOT encourages drivers to play a role in security and report any suspicious activity or security concerns. The Highway Patrol is also a call away at *HP on a cell phone.

21 Comments

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  • mtadish Dec 2, 2010

    This article is to prepare you for the State's use of the TSA's VIPER Patrol. This is to put it in your head, that you need protection and soon they'll announce what's next.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Nov 24, 2010

    Another mistake by the NCSHP.

  • dixieboy Nov 24, 2010

    WRAL , where's the news in this?

  • RonnieR Nov 24, 2010

    When DOT lost its uniformed LEOs to NCSHP the rest area patrol stopped. I don't know if the signs are still posted that said the it was patrolled by them or not. However, the Patrol stopped the program. We used to keep a good watch on them and even used Inspectors on occasions when covert surveillance was needed.

  • Seriously I'm Not Interested Nov 24, 2010

    didisaythat,

    As an LEO, wouldn't you recommend that an even better security tactic than carrying a weapon is to AVOID areas you are afraid to go, to trust your instinct if a situation or place feels threatening, in an effort to avoid the kind of encounter that might end in gunfire? Why become another entry in the book of "crime trends"?

  • klink Nov 24, 2010

    "Security cameras are above vending machines and are managed by the Division of Services for the Blind"

    What!!?? Cameras being managed by the Div. of Services for the Blind?? What!!?

  • airbornemonty Nov 24, 2010

    The North Carolina rest stops are some of the best rest stops in the nation and making sure that they are secure should be one our first priorities.

    I would suggest security cameras mounted on top of tall steel poles monitored 24/7 from a central location by either volunteers or state employees paid by our taxes.

    North Carolina has a population of over nine million and at very least half are employed.
    Let us say that if each tax payer in NC had $5.00 dollars deducted from our taxes for employee wages a year and for the up keep of the system I think that it would work.

    But what the heck, why should I do all of the figuring when the state government has highly paid employees in Raleigh to come up with ideas to make something like this work.

  • x138GMOU Nov 24, 2010

    Okay so some non-thinking head decides there is a story in the lack of security. They investigate and find no story, so they run it anyway. Then they fuss because there is no security to stop the crime that isn't happening. Being the "media" makes it an itch that needs scratching" so 60 more officers are sent to the rest areas where no crime is occurring. At .5 hours each visit that is 30 man-hours a day on our dime. Thanks WRAL! Now report on the wasted tax dollars.

  • SaltyOldJarhead Nov 24, 2010

    No one needs to carry a firearm around because they probably won't ever have to use it. No one needs to wear their seat belts either because they probably won't get in a wreck.

    GoGreen should hope that me, Vietnam Vet, or someone like us happens to be around to take care of him/her when they need it.

  • didisaythat Nov 24, 2010

    GoGreen,

    You must be smoking that green stuff, because you are not seeing what I and many see. Specifically in that area of crime. As a LEO I am very familiar with crime trends. I do see, with my own eyes, what it is like outside of a gated community, or the Whole Foods store, or Target. Why not go to areas you have never been...areas you maybe afraid to go to and tell me what it is like out in the real world and not some hippie rally for recycling.

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