PENINSULA PROFILE: Trooper uses job to make difference in people's lives

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

Explore working for State Patrol

TO FIND OUT more about jobs with the Washington State Patrol, visit www.WSP.wa.gov and click on “Be a Trooper.” Women and men are encouraged to explore the application process; people of practically any age may apply, though retirement at age 65 is mandatory. The starting salary for a state trooper is roughly $31,000, with pay incentives for those with two- and four-year college degrees.

Entrance testing is slated for this spring for the Washington State Patrol Training Academy class to start Sept. 2. For information, recruiting officer Katie Colello-Bidewell can be reached at
Katherine.Colello-Bidewell@wsp.wa.gov and 360-328-3741.

Peninsula Daily News
PORT TOWNSEND — Upon turning 17, Travis Snider left his home town of Lewiston, Idaho, for sunny Southern California.

Not to surf, though. Snider went to boot camp for the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he served four years as an infantryman. Among other places he traveled to were Japan, Indonesia and Bangor, Kitsap County, where he served as a security guard at Naval Base Kitsap.

“Four years is a long time in the Marine Corps. They keep you moving,” Snider says.

Bangor, as it turned out, introduced him to the region where he would put down roots, start a family and a new career that is deeply fulfilling to him.

At 22, Snider entered the Washington State Patrol academy at Shelton. While still a cadet, he saw riots at the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization in 1999, and has since become a member of the statewide Rapid Deployment Corps, ready to respond to a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

But this story is about Snider's night-to-night work. As a state trooper covering East Jefferson County, he patrols U.S. Highway 101 and state Highways 19, 20 and 104, as well as the winding county roads from Brinnon to the Clallam County line.

Like his fellow 677 Washington state troopers, Snider is busy. In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are compiled, the State Patrol investigated 1,948 collisions related to drivers under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. Also that year, troopers arrested 20,025 DUI motorists, according to State Patrol spokesman Russel Q. Winger.

On state highways alone in 2011, the patrol investigated 191 fatality collisions. The total fatalities for that year numbered 458, with 178 DUI-related and 165 speed-related. One hundred of those who died in the collisions were not wearing seat belts.

Snider, on his beat, stopped 633 violators of the speed limit, issuing citations to 372 of them. Of the 21 people he stopped for failing to wear seat belts, the trooper cited 15, giving them each a $124 ticket. He also made contact with 95 “aggressive drivers,” and arrested 10 for drug offenses. He arrested 12 people for DUI.

Altogether, Snider made contact with some 1,060 violators in 2011, Winger reported.

Last year, Snider attended the funeral of Trooper Tony Radulescu, who was shot and killed Feb. 23 by the driver of a pickup truck on state Highway 16. The suspect later committed suicide.

Snider and Radulescu worked together in Kitsap County before Snider's beat changed to East Jefferson County. Both were also military veterans; Radulescu had served in the Army.

And so Snider has come to realize that in his line of work, there's no such thing as a “routine stop.” When he pulls over a motorist, he approaches the car knowing that it could be the last time.

Murder is now a leading cause of death for law enforcement officers, the trooper said.

At 37, Snider doesn't have that feeling of invincibility found among younger men. He's been married more than 10 years now. He and his wife have two young boys.

“Life has become more precious,” he says.

His wife, an elementary school teacher, worries about him as he goes off to work the 3:45 p.m.-to-midnight shift. “She does the best she can with it,” Snider says.

Going into a different profession is not an option.

“I love the work,” the trooper says. “I'm where I'm supposed to be at this point in my life.”

And on a two-hour ride-along with a reporter, Snider spoke with empathy for the people he stops on the highway, be they speeders or people in the grip of drug abuse.

“Most of the people I stop are good people, on their way home from work. For whatever reason, they decided to speed, or not to wear their seat belt.”

He also recalled a young woman he apprehended for illegal drugs. She had quit them a while back, but then came a chance meeting with some old friends from her using days.

“She started again, that same night,” Snider said. “She told me: 'The only way you can get away from [drugs] is to leave. Leave the place you're living.'”

Snider believes in listening, not condemnation. Sometimes, that pays off.

State Patrol Sgt. Gailin Hester, his supervisor for more than five years now, remarked on the trooper's compassion.

“Snider arrested a person for DUI,” Hester said, “and made such a positive impression in this person's life that he was asked for several years to attend her anniversary achievements, celebrating her years of sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous.”

“He lives our WSP motto, 'Service with humility.'”

Snider himself remembers a former drunken driver seeking him out farther down the road.

“I was on a path of self-destruction,” the individual said, adding that it was Snider who had turned that path in a different direction.

“When they tell me their story, it gives me empathy,” he says. “Most [drug users] just want out.”

The trooper has seen his share of carnage, and he has had the feeling of helplessness when arriving on the scene of a fatal wreck. Yet he does not allow himself to focus on this part of the job.

“You can get to the point of almost taking it personally: 'God, if I could have been there,'” to stop the drunken driver before the collision.

But Snider, like his fellow troopers, has been there. He's pulled intoxicated motorists over, tested them and sent them to jail. He's stopped speeders who, as he puts it, were using the highway as their personal raceway, passing half a dozen cars on a no-passing stretch.

And “you get to help people. I don't know how many tires I've changed, how many times I've strapped a child's car seat into the patrol car and transported [the family] to a hotel” after their car broke down on the highway.

“Whether it's a disabled vehicle or a collision, they're scared. You can be the reassuring presence.”

But Snider also says many more troopers are needed across Washington; he strongly encourages men and women to apply for the 2013 academy class. There's no reason why a woman cannot be an exceptional officer, Snider adds.

Dealing with people, dealing with state laws that continually change — including the new one legalizing recreational marijuana possession — make this tough work. Not that Snider would change anything about his journey.

“This is one of the few jobs where I can make a difference,” he says, “every single day.”

Last modified: January 12. 2013 6:12PM
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