- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
It’s not as difficult as it looks, and within a few minutes after two Segways arrived from Annapolis the middle of last month with a couple of trainers, five St. Mary’s sheriff’s deputies quickly were riding the two-wheeled machines.
Sgt. Julian Schwab and Cpl. Kevin Meyer were zooming along the last day of January at about 12 mph outside the county’s Northern Senior Center in Charlotte Hall, located along a course where the Segways will be put to use on a frequent basis — the Three Notch Trail.
Visitors that day at the center said they’re happy to see the stepped-up and revved-up police presence, on the hiking and biking trail where they walk or ride, and where a woman was murdered last summer.
The two Segways were purchased through grant funding, according to the sheriff’s office, that was obtained by the county government’s department of emergency services and technology.
“These are very maneuverable,” Schwab said as he rode one of the Segways at a slow pace through the center’s hallways, chatting with visitors from his mobile foot-high perch.
“I got right on it and took off,” the sergeant said of his learning curve. Meyer acknowledged that he needed a little more time when the machines arrived and the four-hour training session took place on Jan. 14 at the Leonard Hall drill hall in Leonardtown.
“I took it a little slower. It took 10 to 15 minutes to be comfortable with it,” Meyer said. “Where you have take care of the balance is getting on and off. We were [soon] going up hills and doing little obstacles.”
Three days later, Schwab and Capt. Edward Willenborg took the Segways out on the Three Notch Trail, which has a pair of completed 3-mile segments in Laurel Grove and Charlotte Hall, and an unfinished five-mile stretch between them.
“They’re people friendly,” Schwab said of the Segways. “There were different people on the trail I was talking to. Everybody walks up to you.”
Schwab had about 12 hours’ riding time and Meyer had about half that before the recent official debut of the Segways at the senior center, where visitors were attending a “lunch with the sheriff” event.
Sheriff Tim Cameron (R) told attendees at a community meeting held last fall in the same building that his agency was looking into acquiring the Segways to further security at the trail, an effort that he said began before the death of Moneta Jo Strickland. Last August, the 32-year-old nurse was killed as she jogged on the trail in Laurel Grove. John Morris Quade Jr., a 31-year-old Lexington Park man, was charged with her murder and is now scheduled to face trial in May.
“They’re a conversation piece to begin with,” Schwab said of the initial public response to the Segways. “They basically asked us, ‘Is this something new that’s going to be used?’ ... and how did we acquire this.”
Meyer added, “We’re still trying to decide where and how to implement them. Leonardtown Square will be getting heavy use, at all the events.”
Schwab said the Segways are just right for the trail, because the agency’s utility four-wheeler is too big for the job, and its motorcycles are too loud. The Segways offer law officers advantages, he said, in observation, mobility and creating “less fatigue doing the same amount of work.”
“Right now, we’re doing [the trail patrols at] random,” the sergeant said, an approach which in itself may have a deterrent on trouble on the trail.
“That’s a good idea, for me,” Ray Burch said of the new crime-prevention initiative as he stood outside the center, where the 67-year-old Hughesville resident often checks out a three-wheeled bike to get some exercise on the trail. “There are some patches [of heavy brush] up through there,” Burch said, where “you could easily get somebody come out and rob you.”
Debbie Watson, 59, and her cousin, Judy Landes, 69, also welcomed the arrival of the Segways.
“We’ll be very happy that they’re here,” Watson said, adding that the two women have German shepherds to accompany them, but “when they get too stubborn to go, we’ll be glad the officers are out there. Especially [in light of] what happened at the other end, to that poor lady.”
“Sometimes the shepherds don’t want to walk that far,” Landes concurred.
Schwab, an experienced horseman, acknowledged that he was thrown twice from the Segway when the top of a wheel struck a fixed object. Asked to compare learning to ride a horse to getting trained on the Segway, he replied, “I’ll take a horse any day.”