A conversation with Capt. Don Lupear

Mar 16, 2023 | County, Government

When Editor Mary-Justine Lanyon called Capt. Don Lupear of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Station with one question, the call ended up being a very informative 20 minutes. Here are the highlights.

I called Capt. Lupear to get the name of the deputy who helped solve the problem of a berm that was blocking a street in Cedar Glen (by the way, it was Nathan Hoehnke).

Capt. Lupear explained removing those impediments to travel is a collaborative effort. The sheriff’s department contacts the neighbor who caused the problem and either Public Works or Caltrans, depending on whether it’s a county or state road. The neighbor, the captain said, is told to either clean it up or they will be charged.

He noted that the county is not only plowing county roads, they are also clearing non-county maintained roads. When I added that was a request from Dr. Kimberly Fricker, the superintendent of the Rim of the World Unified School District, the captain’s response was, “They chose a winner in Kim.” The two were in constant contact during the storm and subsequent response.

It is a violation of the vehicle code to throw snow in the road, the captain said as he issued what he called a big warning: “Do not throw snow in the road when clearing your driveway. I understand people’s frustration – they have berms 10 feet high.”

I commented that when a loader came down my street to widen it, the operator did not drop so much as a flake of snow in our cleared-out parking spaces. Capt. Lupear said that was the directive from Public Works – to not block already cleared parking spaces or driveways. And more than that, the operators were told to look for driveways that had not yet been cleared and carve out the berms that has previously been created.

Our conversation then turned to the reopening of Highways 18 and 330 to nonresidents. Capt. Lupear explained it was a group decision, made by the sheriff’s department, County Fire, Caltrans, the CHP and Public Works. The roads were opened, he said, because the gas issue had been solved so there was no safety issue. “Electricity has been restored, roads are open (on the mountain). We can only close roads for safety reasons. There were 15 people in these meetings. We had to agree to do something.”

He added it is not fair to only blame Caltrans for the reopening. Five days prior to the decision being made, Capt. Lupear said, the sheriff’s department and County Fire “pushed back” about opening the highways, a decision that was “coming down” from Sacramento.

“The biggest issue was gas. Once that was rendered safe, we drove the roads and couldn’t keep them closed.

“I understand,” he added, “that it may be inconvenient.”

During the height of the storm, there were special transportation deputies deployed to the mountain. Sheriff’s deputies and Fire personnel would access homes on Sno-Cats to evacuate people in need of leaving their homes. They would take that person to a waiting sheriff’s vehicle with chains on all four tires; that car would then transfer the person to a transportation deputy who took the person down the hill.

On March 9, the day of our conversation, Capt. Lupear said there were 20 deputies on the mountain. “There have been no evacuations in three days so the transportation deputies are no longer needed,” he said.

With the opening of the 18 and 330, Capt. Lupear said there were no reports of major issues, even in Crestline where traffic was diverted with the closure of the Narrows.

He has instructed the deputies that it is a “zero tolerance traffic day.” A driver, he said, will get a ticket – not a warning – if they are driving too fast for the conditions. If someone is parked to snow play, they will get a ticket.

“There will be no warnings issued until the roads are back to 100 percent normal,” Capt. Lupear said.

The deputies were all issued snow shovels for their vehicles. They have been shoveling out the elderly, the captain said. “The number of calls for service has been amazing. We performed over 300 rescues – people who couldn’t get out of their houses.”

From the emergency operations center, where the captain was based during the storm, they delivered more than 6,000 MREs (meals ready to eat) and 40 pallets of food until California OES took over. “They called me to set it up as the county employees don’t know the mountain,” he said.

And did you know, he asked, that Goodwin’s sent up two semi-trucks of food after their roof collapsed and gave it out free? In addition, Jensen’s brought food out of the closed Blue Jay store to give out in their parking lot.



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