LUMBERTON — Robeson County Commissioner Roger Oxendine is calling a growing problem with four-wheelers an “epidemic.”
“It used to be you only had to deal with a couple of four-wheelers at a time,” he said. “Now they are running in large packs.”
The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and the Highway Patrol conducted a special operation called Operation Catch Me If You Can on July 3 with the goal of cracking down on four-wheeler drivers who are causing property damage and trespassing.
About 40 deputies as well as troopers participated in the operation, which Sheriff Kenneth Sealey said was prompted by numerous complaints and a request from the county commissioners.
“We teamed up in pairs and we worked the Back Swamp area, Pembroke and just outside Lumberton,” Sealey said.
The problem is so severe on Back Swamp Road that four-wheeler tracks alongside that road can be seen on Google Maps.
“There’s nothing wrong with riding four-wheelers,” Sealey said, “you’ve just got to have a designated place.”
Oxendine said that he continually receives calls from residents whose property is beign damaged by four-wheelers trespassing on their property.
“I’ve had damage to my property,” said Oxendine, a Robeson County farmer. “They have damaged my fields. Sometimes they get into the middle of a wheat field and do donuts.
“Something has to be done,” said Oxendine. “The problem is you have to catch them and that’s difficult to do. You don’t like to chase them because somebody is going to get hurt and you don’t want to see that happen.”
Sealey said officers conducted surveillance for about six weeks before the operation, taking pictures and videos in problem areas in an attempt to identify four-wheeler operators.
On July 3, officers towed three four-wheelers, recovered one stolen four-wheeler, charged two people with altering serial numbers, served several orders for arrests and outstanding warrants and issued nine citations for driving four-wheelers on highway, driving without a helmet or insurance, trespassing on rail property and driving on private property without the written permission of the property owners.
Sealey said those who are operating their four-wheelers outside of the law are killing farmers’ crops by driving over them and endangering themselves and others by racing on highways and riding in the path of trains.
“That’s a common practice with people doing this,” said Maj. Howard Branch. “They ride alongside the tracks.”
Sealey said the Sheriff’s Office plans to conduct similar operations in the future.
“This was more of a warning,” said Sealey.
First Sgt. Jeremy Brewington of the state Highway Patrol said about five troopers participated in the operation.
“We get a lot of calls with ATV’s and four-wheelers on public roads,” he said.
Brewington said not only is a crime being committed when four-wheeler drivers take their vehicles on the highway, it’s also a safety hazard. Troopers have responded recently to wrecks that involve cars and four-wheelers.
“It’s the safety of the individual riding as well as the safety of motorists,” he said.
County Attorney Patrick Pait is in the process of reviewing concerns about four-wheelers to determine what kind of county ordinance, if any, can be developed related to the operation of four-wheelers.
Jerry Stephens, chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, said that it will probably take six or seven months before a countywide policy for using four wheelers can be developed.
“We need to talk about this,” Stephens said. “We need to establish communications with the Sheriff’s Office. We are going to have to put together a committee to get some ideas about how to handle this. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 and Bob Shiles at 910-416-5165.