By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – A Manchester man who tried to drag a State Police trooper with his car during an I-93 traffic stop Wednesday was released on bail shortly after his, postponing his arraignment which had been scheduled for yesterday in Derry District Court.
Jeff Therrien, 44, was charged with felony reckless conduct and felony simple assault in the incident, which happened just before 3 p.m. near the Exit 4 interchange in Londonderry.
State Police Lt. Chris Aucoin spoke yesterday about what happened, emphasizing that when Trooper Chad Lavoie initially pulled Therrien over. he was clocked at more than 20 mph above the posted speed limit.
High-speed driving, particularly on a busy state highway, is one of several forms of “aggressive driving” a dangerous trend on the rise among drivers, said Aucoin.
“We're focusing on how to address aggressive driving and aggressive behavior, particularly on I-93 north and south around Exits 4 and 5, and at the Manchester loop. Between aggressive drivers and distracted drivers – people on cell phones – we've had increased reports of police and DOT workers being struck. We're using some non-conventional tactics in some areas to combat this,” Aucoin said.
Unmarked cruisers and helicopter patrols are two such ways police are working together with municipalities to stop reckless drivers before they cause a serious accident, with beefed up patrols in certain target areas including where Therrien was pulled over Wednesday.
Aucoin said aggressive driving tactics includes excessive speed, tailgating or trying to force people out of your lane, not using directional signals, passing in the breakdown lane, and making inappropriate gestures to other drivers.
“That sort of driving, combined with the pressures of daily life and the depressed economy, can easily lead to road rage incidents,” Aucoin said.
On Saturday another incident involving an angry driver and a police officer being dragged by a vehicle happened in Salem, outside Canobie Lake Park.
Police said Salem Officer Dave Hyatt was helping direct traffic along North Policy Street near the main entrance of the amusement park at around 2 p.m. Saturday when a vehicle pulled up next to him and both the driver and passenger began shouting obscenities about his ability to direct traffic.
William Manning, 54, and his wife Linda Manning, 46, of Waltham, Mass., had looped around once in the flow of traffic and come back around to share their frustration with Hyatt, who directed the couple to pull over.
When the officer noticed three young kids in the back of the car, he asked for identification from both the Mannings. As Hyatt reached into the car for Mrs. Manning's ID, her husband yelled another obscenity and hit the gas, catching Hyatt's arm in the passenger-side window and dragging the officer several yards before he fell to the ground.
Neither Hyatt nor Lavoie were seriously injured. But both incidents appear to indicate a growing frustration among drivers, not only toward authority but the rules of the road as well.
Tim O'Neil, a U.S. rally racing champion who runs an extreme driving school in Dalton, Team O'Neal Rally School, said people are taking their frustrations out on the road.
“We have people losing jobs, losing houses – and especially for me, that's the whole big deal with men, you gotta be the breadwinner. So when times get tough, people get desperate. But instead of going camping or taking a vacation and learning to relax, people drive like they want to kill someone,” said O'Neal.
“It starts with feeling frustrated by Presidential policies, and then the governor's policies, then the company policies – maybe they even lay you off from your job. Then, the police pull you over and now it's 'the man' who's bringing you down. Sometimes, that's the straw that breaks the camel's back,” O'Neal said.
Aucoin said more officers on patrol are reporting increasing difficulty in getting drivers to notice when a police car with flashing lights is behind them trying to pass.
“It's increasingly difficult to get people's attention, even with with lights and siren going, which I attribute to increased distraction due to hand-held devices,” said Aucoin.
“I see what happened Wednesday – and what's happening in general – as a quality of life issue. It didn't start yesterday, and it won't end tomorrow. It's something that has developed over the years with pressures from society to be in more places and get there faster with less time to do so,” Aucoin said. “It's spilled over into our patterns and behaviors as motorists. To stop it will take enforcement and public awareness.”
Aucoin said motorists should always feel free to report drivers who are operating aggressively to their local or state police, citing an incident last week in which someone emailed State Police to say they were concerned with tractor trailers on I-93 driving too fast and too close together.
“As a result, we sent a directed patrol to that area to monitor the situation,” Aucoin said.