Extra law enforcement pleases most dunes-goers

January 02, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer
  • Ted Stough of Perris watches the moon rise in the desert. KEVIN MARTY PHOTO

GLAMIS — While final numbers are being tallied for the four-day New Year's weekend at the Imperial Sand Dunes, one thing is certain — regular dune visitors were happy to see extra law enforcement.

A mobile organization of paramedics, firefighters and law enforcement, also known as an incident team, was brought in by federal and state agencies to control the dunes during the New Year's weekend. The interagency incident team is generally used for fire emergencies.

The action followed the Thanksgiving holiday weekend where unruly visitors were responsible for an exchange of gunfire in which a man died, stabbings, a record number of citations and a motorist running over a ranger.

"Just about every supervisor here has had people come up and tell them they're glad we're here. We've even had folks applaud sheriff's officers arresting someone," said Stephen Harvey, a National Parks Service ranger who was the safety officer for the incident team.


Preliminary numbers for the weekend show a total of 88,000 visitors to the dunes with the most being about 55,000 at one time, National Parks spokesman Roger Scott said.

Officers arrested about 35 people, mostly for driving under the influence and a few assaults, Scott said. Officers also handed out about 350 citations, the majority for open containers of alcohol and drug possession, he said.

The emergency team treated 150 people. About eight were critical, Scott said. Many of those who could went to Pioneer's Memorial Hospital in Brawley on their own. He said the hospital was full of people in riding boots at 4 a.m. Tuesday morning.

This is the first time the U.S. Bureau of Land Management used an incident team at the sand dunes, Chief BLM Ranger Felicia Probert said.

The team handled a close call Monday when a four-passenger pickup flipped on the edge of a flat stretch of sand known as "The Drags."

Witnesses said the driver lost control while driving the truck in reverse down the drags. The driver almost hit several groups of people.

A noisy swarm of mostly young men holding beer cans in one hand and video cameras in another quickly gathered around the flipped truck.

"Show your ——!" they shouted to young women in the crowd.

Within minutes, a dozen law enforcement cars arrived to disperse the crowd.

"Thank God for the rangers. I feel much better with them around. They're going to tone this crap down," Escondido resident Wendy Wicka said.

The 30-year-old Wicka is a regular dunes visitor. She and her husband come here with his brother and his brother's children several times a year.

San Diego resident Bill Jamison said everyone cheered when the truck rolled because they thought it was going to hit them.

There are no rules, and that's part of the fun here, but the new crowd is much more violent, he said.

The new crowd is younger and drives four-wheel-drive pickups, but those people are not the regular sand duners who own expensive off-road toys, Palm Desert resident Jeff Smith said.

After making such a large investment, the regulars don't want to put access to the dunes in jeopardy, Smith said.

He said the new crowd, who he and his friends call "beanie heads" because they wear beanies, comes out here to drink and cause trouble.

"My parents brought me here and I bring my kids here. I've been coming to the dunes for 18 years. My parents taught me to respect the desert," the 30-year-old Smith said.

Jamison, 42, has regularly visited the dunes for 20 years and is a member of the American Sand Association. The association works to keep access to sand dune recreation.

He said he supports arresting those driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and confiscating their vehicles.

"I'm glad they finally cracked down, but New Year's weekend is relatively mellow," he said. "The real test will be Presidents' Day weekend."

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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