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Trooper ready to turn in keys

Bruce Berry was on the top of the world in 1971. The young man with a wife and four small children was eagerly awaiting his first assignment with the Colorado State Patrol after graduating from the academy.

He learned that he was assigned to Basalt, Colo., a town he really wasn’t familiar with, on the Western Slope. He did a little research and proudly announced to his wife, Carole, that they were heading off to a nice little town of about 6,500 people.

Berry made his first trip to Basalt alone to make living arrangements when he learned his research had gone awry. Basalt’s elevation was 6,500, he called home to tell his wife. The population was only about 250.

Nearly 30 years later – on the eve of his retirement – Berry has absolutely no regrets about where he landed. He spent his entire career in Basalt.

“I knew it was a place I wanted to stay,” said Berry. “You’ve got the best office.”

It was a great place to work and, even more importantly, it was a great place to raise his three step-children and one natural daughter.

The cost of living in Colorado resort areas typically chased troopers away. Berry recalled receiving $500 in take-home pay per month his first winter here. Propane alone cost $100 per month to heat the family’s trailer. “I thought, geez, how are we going to buy groceries?” he said.

But the Berrys found a way to make household economics work. They bought a trailer home in a state-owned mobile home park along Willits Lane and Bruce’s tenure and cost-of-living increases made for a pretty good career. He knows the roads If ever the old saying, “He knows the area like the back of his hand” applied, it would be with Berry. He logged 625,000 crash-free miles while patrolling from the top of Independence Pass to the top of McClure Pass; from the Eagle-Garfield County line in Glenwood Canyon to the Mesa-Garfield County line west of Parachute; and north to the Rio Blanco County line.

He earned the state patrol’s highest skill level for accident investigation and studied about 5,300 crashes. He estimates he wrote an average of 10 traffic tickets per day, or about 16,000 per year. At 29 years, that amounts to an estimated 464,000 citations.

But writing tickets wasn’t what it was all about for Berry. He said he has met very few people in law enforcement who entered it for the power trip.

He didn’t. He wanted to lend a helping hand.

“I’d say 60 percent of my time was spent helping people,” Berry said. He helped with traffic control during cattle drives. He’d help people with flat tires. He’d comfort people involved in a crash.

“It’s a fun job. You never know what’s going to come your way,” said Berry.

He only had to draw his pistol three times in all those years. He “wrestled” with three or four scofflaws who weren’t cooperating. He was never shot at, but did receive a coffee cup to the chest from an irate woman he stopped.

The scariest encounter Berry ever had was when a vehicle came so close that it ripped his pants while he was on the roadside.

Berry said he won’t miss dealing with irate people who treat him like the bad guy for ticketing them for doing something wrong. He won’t miss the 3 a.m. telephone calls from the state patrol dispatcher, directing him out to investigate an accident on a snowy night.

He won’t miss the blood and carnage that come with the job. He once handled investigations of two fatal accidents in one day. He knew both victims.

“I won’t miss seeing how two seconds of misjudgment lead to terrible consequences,” Berry said. He’ll miss the whodunits While he won’t miss the carnage of crashes, Berry acknowledged he will miss trying to figure out precisely what happened in an accident – the “whodunits,” as he called them.

Troopers now have access to incredible computers that help piece together all factors of an accident – speed, direction of travel, etc. The state patrol is in the process of putting computers in patrol cars. Troopers will use them for everything from accident investigations to calling up driving records, proof of insurance and vehicle registrations.

Berry said he will also miss “the people, fellow cops, fellow troopers.”

He believes he assisted law enforcement in the valley by providing continuity and background as well as an understanding and link between the different jurisdictions. The Roaring Fork Valley has three sheriffs departments and five police departments in addition to the state patrol.

And you won’t find Berry bad-mouthing the public he has served. While popular perception is that there are more crazy drivers out there then ever and that road rage has hit epidemic proportions, Berry doesn’t subscribe to that theory.

“Just a very small percentage of them are like that,” the veteran trooper said. “I would like to commend the 99 percent of them that are good.”

There are more people living and working in the valley and more people traveling Highway 82. So even if the percentage of bad drivers and ragers remains the same, it results in greater numbers, Berry noted.

But Berry said examples of good behavior on the roads also abound. On his final day on the road, for example, the traffic signal malfunctioned at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road during the morning rush.

Later that morning, Berry seemed genuinely pleased that commuters were being polite – stopping to let traffic turn off the highway onto Brush Creek Road and letting buses and other vehicles onto the highway from the side road.

Berry also doubts that there are any more cases of drinking and driving now than 30 years ago. The difference is law enforcement agencies are better at detecting and arresting intoxicated drivers, he said.

“We’re being proactive rather than reactive and just covering a crash and saying, `Oh, he was drunk,’ ” Berry said. Road trip So what’s next for Berry when he turns in his badge at the end of July? He’ll hit the road, of course.

Bruce and Carole have a 40-foot, fifth-wheel trailer that offers more luxury than most homes. They will head to Wyoming after Bruce’s official retirement, then make their way to Phoenix by winter.

They will maintain connections to the Roaring Fork Valley because of friends and family. Three of their children – Randy, Juli and Jennifer – live in the area. Another child, Teri, passed away recently.

They also have four grandchildren, one great-grandchild and another on the way.

And the fond memories of 29 years in the valley will also bring them back.


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