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Trucks undergo scrutiny on safety ; Day of inspections targets violations

David Stokes waited patiently in his cab, with a customer's big wooden boat from North Carolina behind him, as his truck -- one of about 130 pulled over Thursday in a special Cheektowaga dragnet -- was inspected.

About half were cited for such violations as poorly secured loads, and two arrests involved driving with a suspended licenses.

The emptied parking lot of the Super Flea weekend market was transformed, with police officers and government staffers checking trucks from nearly every route within a five-mile radius.

They looked for problems -- oil drips and exhaust, brake, tire and steering function. Dogs sniffing for explosives also caught the scent of drugs, but no actual drugs turned up.

Inspectors also were on the lookout for drivers who had been on the road too long, who had not updated their logbooks or who hauled illegally heavy loads.

"Eagle Claw II," a daylong project instigated last year by Cheektowaga police, began at 7 a.m. and involved representatives of 16 government agencies, from local police to the state Transportation and Environmental Conservation departments.

State and Buffalo police, plus the U.S. Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security, National Insurance Crime Bureau and Erie County Emergency Services also took part.

During last year's 10-hour blitz, about the same number of trucks were pulled over, and violations included the discovery of a stolen backhoe. By late Thursday afternoon, this year's effort had yielded less dramatic but important results -- from poor logbook records to tires with cracked rims and a poorly secured bulldozer.

"I think it sends a good message to local truckers that we're serious," said Capt. James J. Speyer, Cheektowaga police spokesman. "It's a huge undertaking."

Cheektowaga Patrol Officer Michael McDonough, who underwent special training for the inspections, carefully examined trucks, adding that finding and correcting hazards, such as a load that could fall into traffic, were gratifying.

"They're just a danger on the road," he said.

As McDonough scrutinized Stokes' logbook and found fault with the knots in his ropes and loose chunks of wood in his trailer bed, Stokes -- parked and waiting to roll -- said he was grateful.

"It's a normal thing in a trucker's life. You do the best you can and then sometimes you end up with a violation," said Stokes, on the road from Florida.

"Sometimes there's stuff I miss, and they catch," the trucker added.

"It's something I need to take care of, so I don't mind."

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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