This is a followup to the events that occurred on Saturday, Nov. 10, when a group of MN Patriot Guard members attended the funeral of 2nd Lt. Tracy Lynn Alger in Bloomer, Wisconsin.
In addition to others who rode separately from different areas in Minnesota, approximately 30 bikes and 6-8 cages left St. Paul Harley-Davidson that morning heading east on I-94. In Wisconsin, the speed limit is 65 mph and we were traveling as a group in the left lane, doing between 65 and 67 mph. In Minnesota, the Highway Patrol has normally recommended we use the left lane for safety reasons - it allows for other traffic to enter and exit the freeway safely.
Near the Menomonie, WI exit, we were stopped by 11-12 police vehicles from the WI Highway Patrol along with local and county departments. Our Ride Captain that day, Jeff Good (NE Metro RC), spoke at length with the officer in charge to straighten out the situation. I spoke with some of the officers as well, as did Ron Reineke, our Safety Officer.
We were informed that the left lane is for passing only and that in the future we should stick to the right lane unless passing. Traveling solely in the left lane, even at or slightly above the speed limit, is considered obstructing traffic.
Although initially this was a tense situation due to the manner in which we were stopped, the situation was defused. Our primary goal was to complete our mission that day and we did. After the delay, we were able to continue without incident to the staging area and to the funeral, to pay our respects and show support to the family and friends of Lt. Alger.
At my request, Jeff Good has continued our communications with the Wisconsin Highway Patrol in an effort to both express concern at how we were stopped and to ensure good communication and clarity of traffic law for future missions. Below is a letter we recently received from the WI Highway Patrol that brings this matter to a close.
We have always enjoyed a very good relationship with law enforcement in Minnesota; we are taking the lessons learned from this situation so we can enjoy the same kind of relationship with LEOs in other states, as well as continue to travel in the safest manner possible to and from missions.
I'd like to thank both Jeff Good and the WI Highway Patrol for their followup and for bringing this to a positive resolution...and I'd also like to thank the PGR members who braved an extremely cold day to stand in honor of 2nd Lt. Tracy Lynn Alger.
Our investigation of the circumstances surrounding the November 10, 2007 stop of your group has concluded. We have been in contact with all the agencies involved and appreciate your patience as we did so. We are very grateful for the communications this incident has allowed us to establish with the Minnesota Patriot Guard, as we believe these communications will ensure coordination of safe and successful future missions.
The circumstances surrounding the traffic stop of the Minnesota Patriot Guard were based on our response to a citizen call. Our Communications Center received a complaint from a party traveling behind the motorcycle convoy. The caller had reported; "a group of 20 motorcycles are blocking the road, along with 8 or 10 more vehicles with their hazards on….no body can pass them….about 55 mph….both lanes…..vehicles are backed up a 1\2 mile to a mile….people are getting frustrated beyond belief." We had two troopers respond to the complaint.
Again, an unfortunate circumstance developed, one of the troopers had just read an alert of a "motorcycle gang" possibly traveling through the area. Our trooper immediately assumed this group of motorcycles was the "gang". In doing so she requested local law enforcement to assist in stopping the "motorcycle gang". The agencies were given incorrect information by our trooper, and placed them on a heightened alert.
Upon making visual contact with your group of motorcycles, the trooper recognized the violation, and regardless of whom the motorcycle group was, the traffic stop was appropriate. However, the trooper's demeanor did not meet our expectations of professionalism, nor did it meet yours and for this we offer our sincere apologies.
We are grateful to Sgt. Hollister of Menomonie Police Department and Sgt. Voight of the State Patrol for recognizing the Patriot Guard, and sharing the information that would allow the Patriot Guard to successfully complete their important mission without further incident.
We have a shared recognition; that our nation's freedoms and liberties come with great cost, paid by those who serve our Nation. Those in uniform have sacrificed much and deserve the honor, respect, and dignity bestowed upon them. The Minnesota Patriot Guard continues to play a significant role in recognizing those who have paid the ultimate price in service to our Country.
I trust there is now an improved line of communications between the Wisconsin State Patrol and the Minnesota Patriot Guard and that future missions will be remembered for all the right reasons.
Captain Douglas R. Notbohm
Northwest Region Commander