Highway Patrol wanting new police radio system

Friday, January 18th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

When the Oklahoma Legislature goes back into session next month, they'll be tackling a number of budget issues. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol will be asking them for more money to expand the range and effectiveness of their radio system.

The OHP says it's their highest priority. News on 6 reporter Steve Berg explains why. Take your basic police handheld radio. You might think that every trooper would have one. But actually, most of the troopers in the rural areas do not. And it nearly cost one trooper his life. Three months ago, Trooper Jack Choate broke his leg, fractured a vertebra in his back, and shattered the heel bones in both feet. And he says he was lucky. He was checking out a submerged truck in this coal pit near Catoosa, when the ledge he was on gave way, and he fell 50 feet to the bottom.

Unable to walk and with the lower half of his body in freezing cold water, Choate was in big trouble. Trooper Jack Choate, Oklahoma Highway Patrol, "I knew I had no radio, all I had was a pager, and of course it only receives, it doesn't transmit anything, there wasn't anything to light a fire with." From where he fell, Trooper Choate could easily see and hear a road crew that was working just a couple of hundred yards away, but because of all the machinery that was running, they couldn't hear him. "The only thing loud I had with me was my gun, and I just started firing rounds out of it."

On his last two shots, he got the attention of another trooper, who had just arrived on the scene above, but hadn't thought to look down in the pit. Choate had been in the water for 45 minutes. "Hypothermia had set in, the Lifeflight paramedics couldn't even get a needle started in my veins because of hypothermia.” All Choate would have needed was a handheld radio. But for the radio to work, the state will need to build more than $40-million worth of infrastructure, like radio towers. It's an expensive proposition. But worth it says Trooper Choate. "The next person who runs into a situation where he needs to call for help is not going to be able to, and he may not be fortunate enough to have a partner like I did.”

The OHP won't even find out until May if they get the funding. And then of course it would take a long time to put up all the towers and other equipment. So this project is still a long way down the road.