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BLM gears up for busy New Year's

December 13, 2001|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is preparing for another onslaught of trouble at the Imperial Sand Dunes over the New Year's holiday.

A shootout, stabbing incidents and an attack on an officer were the lowlights of the recent Thanksgiving holiday weekend, when 190,000 visitors to the dunes were patrolled by under 40 law enforcement officers.

"We're trying to bring in close to 200 officers for the New Year holiday," acting BLM chief ranger Bob Haggerty said. "So far, it appears we'll get the 200."

On Thanksgiving Day Haggerty was himself assaulted. Kjell Stolt, 42, of San Diego ran over Haggerty with a vehicle to evade a speeding ticket, according to police reports.

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The BLM and Imperial County have developed a "zero-tolerance" policy toward unlawful behavior in the dunes, Haggerty said. The policy will continue until the level of lawlessness is reduced to something that can be managed locally, he said.

BLM and county officials originally wanted 300 officers to patrol the dunes for the New Year weekend.

Last New Year's holiday was a three-day weekend. The bureau estimated 40,000 to 50,000 visitors came to the dunes then, BLM spokesman Duran Sanchez said.

Haggerty said this year the bureau expects 60,000 to 120,000 visitors for the New Year's holiday.

"We're hoping it won't be near the numbers from Thanksgiving but it's hard to tell," Haggerty said. "New Year's Day is a Tuesday so we'll have a four-day weekend. It may encourage more to show up."

Extra media attention on the sand dunes attracts the lawless element, which shows up just for the party, he said.

It's difficult to get extra law enforcement for the New Year's holiday because officers everywhere are busy, Haggerty said.

The bureau is seeking help from the state Office of Emergency Services, the state parks service, the California Highway Patrol, the county Sheriff's Office, the Southern California Sheriffs Region Six, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Border Patrol, Haggerty said.

A command center will be run from the Cahuilla Ranger Station, he said.

Haggerty said he will probably be at the command center during the New Year's holiday since he's not yet able to be on patrol.

"I have a lump where the tire ran over my leg," he said.

Haggerty is scheduled for surgery Tuesday.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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