While investigating the North Dakota Highway Patrol’s quotas-that-aren’t-really-quotas policies, some of the troopers I spoke with (who want to remain anonymous because they fear retribution from supervisors) told me about an incident involving Lt. Troy Hischer which happened on January 5, 2015.
On that date Hischer had been visiting the scene of the school bus-train collision in Larimore which he told the media was likely the result of “driver error” because the driver became “complacent.” But Hischer had his own moment of complacent driving that day. After leaving the scene he proceeded to drive the wrong way on U.S. Highway 2, traveling westbound in eastbound lanes, while talking on his cell phone.
What’s more, it seems that the North Dakota Highway Patrol didn’t find the matter worthy of investigation until March 18, about a week after I put in an open records requests for state radio transcripts of the incident on March 10 and 72 days after the incident occurred.
“The NDHP is conducting an internal investigation on an incident regarding Lt Troy Hischer on the evening of 1/5/2015,” NDHP Captain Aaron Hummel told me via email on March 25. “The internal investigation began on 3/18/2015.”
You can read a full transcript of what happened from state radio below, but they’re a little difficult to understand, so here’s a timeline:
- 7:12pm: Caller tells 911 dispatch that there is a car going the wrong way between Arville and Larimore on Highway 2. The caller describes it as a car but says she can’t give any more details because it’s dark outside.
- 7:14pm: Dispatch sends out a message to all units about a wrong way driver on U.S. Highway 2.
- 7:17pm: A second caller tells 911 that a car is traveling the wrong way on U.S. Highway 2. This caller identifies the car as a state patrol vehicle.
- 7:19pm: Lt. Hischer, identified as unit 292, calls dispatch asking if they’re still looking for a wrong way driver. Dispatch tells Hischer to “hold on.”
- 7:20pm: Dispatch responds to Hischer saying they got a call about a trooper car driving the wrong way. “Yeah, that was me,” Hischer tells dispatch. “I was on the phone.” Hischer said he was “in the median,” but both callers make it pretty clear that Hischer’s car was traveling down the highway. The second caller said he was “freaked out” because Hischer was “in the same lane as me.” Dispatch tells Hischer that a trooper unit identified as 268 is probably looking for him.
- 7:21pm: Trooper unit 268 asks dispatch if they’re still getting calls about a wrong way driver. Dispatch told unit 268 that “292’s gonna give you a call.”
That it took so long for the Highway Patrol to investigate this matter is troubling. Troopers I’ve spoken to say they’re concerned about a perception where lower-ranking officers are quick to be wrote up for infractions while higher-ranking troopers get off with a pass.
I spoke with Hummel via telephone this afternoon and asked him about the delay. “The trigger in it was the open records request you had made on the 10th,” Hummel said. “Here at headquarters that was the first we had heard of it.”
From the time line above it appears as though Hischer drove the wrong way for about 7 minutes. Hummel told me he found it to be 4 minutes and 45 seconds, or a distance of about four and a half miles. That also runs contrary to what Hischer told dispatch about only being in the median.
I asked about Hischer being on the telephone and Hummel told me “there were some distractions.” He said that there “were several calls which took place that night” related to the Larimore crash. “During that time it was with one of our commanders,” Hummel said, referring to the time Hischer was traveling the wrong way on the highway.
Hummel said he is “nearly done” with his investigation into the matter and would have a full report available some time next week.