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Calling their bluff

Standing Friday on the corner of Table Rock and Vilas roads and dressed in a Portland Trail Blazers shirt and jeans, Sgt. Dace Cochran looked like any other pedestrian.

But Cochran, of the Jackson County Sheriff's Department Traffic Team, was in constant radio communication with four deputies parked nearby. Every time a motorist talking on a cellphone drove by, Cochran tipped off his team members, who chased after the cellphone scofflaws with lights flashing.

The operation started at 8:30 a.m. Friday and ran through the late afternoon. By the end, the team had written 99 citations, issued 18 warnings and impounded 12 vehicles. Roughly half the citations were for illegal cellphone use, one was for DUII and one involved a warrant, said sheriff's spokeswoman Andrea Carlson.

"We're also getting seat belts, expired tags," Cochran said. "It's a variety of things."

It's the second time Cochran has used this coordinated watch-and-wait tactic.

Last week, he stood at the corner of Stewart and Columbus avenues and radioed violations to other members of his team. That operation netted 75 citations, and more stings are likely to come, at intersections such as Antelope Road and Highway 62 and West Main Street and Lozier Lane.

"We'll give it a few more shots," Cochran said.

The most recent changes to Oregon's cellphone law make it illegal for drivers to talk on a phone without a hands-free device. A citation can cost up to $250.

Deputy Noah Strohmeyer, who sat in the parking lot of American Industrial Door on Table Rock Road, said the sting operation was an effective way to prevent accidents at dangerous intersections.

"We're not going out of our way to hide here," he said. "Now (motorists) are going to think of this intersection for a period of time."

Jim Hill, owner of American Industrial Door, said a consistent law enforcement presence at the Table Rock and Vilas intersection is needed, particularly because of speeding and heavy truck traffic.

"This road's busier than I-5," Hill said. "You can't even open your window because it sounds like an F-14 going down the highway."

Ed Dux, an employee of a nearby Shell gas station, agreed. He added that drivers talking on their cellphones make the situation worse.

"This is one of the busiest intersections in Jackson County," Dux said. "They could make their budget on a weekend here."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

Deputy Chris Willis, with the Jackson County Sheriff?s Department, hands out a ticket for driving while using a cellphone near the intersection of Vilas and Table Rock roads Friday. It was part of an operation to enforce state law on cellphone use. Only hands-free devices are allowed while driving. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch