An American air force colonel caught speeding twice on the Alaska Highway over the Easter weekend says he’d like to see some good come from his mistakes after his van was seized and impounded by BC Highway Patrol.
DeWayne Lazenby says he was travelling from Ohio to a new posting in Alaska on April 16, making the journey with his 70-year-old mother-in-law and two family dogs, when he was clocked speeding in excess of 60km/h over the 50km/h posted limit near Liard Hot Springs during a holiday enforcement blitz.
Lazenby says he missed a change to the posted speed while looking to speak to his mother-in-law, who he says is mostly deaf, and didn’t realize he needed to slow down. It was the second time he had been caught speeding that day; he had been stopped earlier by an RCMP officer near Buckinghorse, and let off with a warning that his vehicle could be impounded.
“I didn’t speed on purpose. I didn’t see the sign, I’m not perfect," said Lazenby, who feels the penalty he received was too harsh. "I was not intentionally violating anything, but you cannot take away the ability for me to protect the life of my mother-in-law and my dog," he said. "It’s not ethical, it’s not moral."
Officers fined Lazenby $483 along with a non-discretionary vehicle impound, and brought him, his mother-in-law, and the two dogs to a hotel in Watson Lake, the nearest available lodging over the long weekend, according to BC Highway Patrol. Lazenby says the fear of being stranded in the Northern Rockies with no cell service and limited options for shelter led to hostility between him and the officer who enforced the impoundment.
He later shared his experiences in a tense post made to local social media, alleging he and his family were "turned out on the street" in minus-10 degree weather with no place to stay — calling the ordeal an "injustice" and "a nightmare", and characterizing it as "flagrant, organized criminal activity to exploit travelers who were powerless to take care of their own basic needs."
Cpl. Mike Halskov of the BC Highway Patrol says the incident is under investigation and review, but that there was no wrongdoing on the agency's part. Anyone caught exceeding a speed limit by 40 kilometres in B.C. is subject to a non-discretionary vehicle impoundment, no matter who they are or what country they’re from, he said.
“I just want to reiterate that it’s not our practice to leave anybody stranded at the roadside with no access to services, and this incident took place in a very remote region of the province where services were extremely limited and or unavailable because of the long weekend with Easter bookings,” Halskov said.
Halskov says there’s been a considerable amount of public outrage over the incident but feels residents don’t have a complete picture of what happened. He says the officer involved, who remains on duty, is "taking a lot of heat in the community" because of Lazenby's social media post, which is also affecting his family.
"People are responding to this thing without knowing all the facts,” Halskov said.
Lazenby, who has since arrived to his new home in Alaska, said he was concerned to hear the officer and his family have been harassed. Despite being frustrated and distraught over the seizure of his vehicle, he says he has no ill will towards the officer but hopes foreign travellers can get better assistance with B.C.’s motor vehicle laws in the future.
“Now that I’m home, I don’t care," he said. "If the information can be used to get some future flexibility for travellers, that might have children, or animals, or elderly with them, when it’s freezing and there’s no place to stay, that would be my ideal outcome."
Lazenby says he still has to figure out how to get his van back, and expects to retrieve it at a later date, though he admits "I’m not completely comfortable coming back" due to the negativity swirling around the incident toward both the officer and the towing company.
“I made a mistake and I’m good dealing with the tail end of that," he said.
“If the goal of the law is deterrence for speeding, then it’s achieved that with absolute perfection because I will never drive in B.C. again," he said, "and so they’ve eliminated one potential speeder, forever."
Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News