Although nobody enjoys being on the receiving end of a traffic ticket, it’s almost certain that our streets, and so our lives, are safer because of the law enforcement officers who issue those tickets.
Of those officers, none in the area is more efficient than Grundy County Sheriff’s Deputy Vic Elias. The department learned last week that Elias received two awards for his attentiveness to duty – the Illinois Department of Transportation’s Speed Enforcement Award and Seat Belt Enforcement Award.
Over his short, four-year tenure in the sheriff’s department, Elias has issued more than 4,000 speeding citations and over 3,000 seat belt citations. That puts him in the top ten in the state for speed enforcement and makes him one of the top four in seatbelt enforcement.
According to the program’s website, www.silec.org, the latest survey indicated Illinois was over 90 percent compliant with seat belt laws, a milestone that makes the state one of the leaders in the country and has contributed to the lowest number of driving fatalities since 1924.
What makes Elias’s feat even more significant is that even though the program has been totaling tickets since 2006, he has only been monitored for the number he has issued since 2008, when he began at the department.
“This is quite an accomplishment considering there are over 1,100 police agencies in Illinois that employ over 34,000 full-time police officers,” said Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan.
“I am proud to have Vic as a member of our department.”
Elias said he didn’t aim to set any records when he started. He just wanted to do a good job at enforcing the law and making his county a little bit safer. He said it’s the whole team that works together to make the area’s roadways safer.
“I look at it as, I’m out here doing my job,” Elias said. “That’s what the taxpayers pay me for.” Service is in his family, he said, and his father is a sergeant in the Shorewood Police Department. He, his father, and his grandfather also served in the military
Elias grew up in Morris and now lives in the country south of Mazon. When he entered the U.S. Army, he had his sights set on making a career of it. He worked as a gunner on a tank. After three years, though, he began looking into law enforcement in the civilian world.
He worked as an officer in the Morris Police Department for a couple of years, then was offered a deputy position in the Grundy County Sheriff’s Department, assigned to the traffic unit. When on patrol, Elias said he looks primarily for two things – speeders and those who don’t wear a seat belt.
Both contribute to injuries and deaths, he said, not just to the driver, but also to other drivers on the road who get hit by those who speed and can’t control their vehicles.
“Speeding is a big factor in crashes,” he said, “and seat belts save lives in the case of a crash.”
He said other common citations he gives are for driving while license suspended, driving with no insurance, and failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident. He’s seen so much over his few years on the job that he said sometimes he thinks not much would surprise him.
“Just when you think you’ve seen it all, though,” he said with a laugh, “give it a day.”
He enjoys the variety of his job, saying it makes it interesting and keeps him on his toes. People have different attitudes when they’re stopped on an infraction of the law. Some know they’ve broken the law and accept being stopped, but others become upset and have a completely different attitude.
“I’ve had them just downright call me names and aren’t happy at all with the process,” he said. “But most people understand it’s my job, and they don’t take it personally.”
There are times he makes a stop for a routine speeding or seat belt violation that turns into a whole different situation. An example is a seat belt stop that resulted in arrests for a residential burglary that the occupants had just committed a few minutes before the stop.
The robbery was solved, and the stolen items were recovered.
He has noticed a shift in the way people are responding to the seat belt laws lately.
“I’ve noticed that more people are wearing their seat belts,” he said. “So, it’s working. I just sat in Diamond for two hours, and I didn’t get one.”
Elias wants Grundy residents to know how important it is to buckle up. He knows first-hand. Besides seeing the results of crashes on the job, he was involved personally in two accidents. One was a head-on collision with a driver who was drunk.
“The only reason I lived was because I was wearing a seat belt,” he said.
He’s heard some people say they don’t want to wear their belts because others have told them wrecks are more dangerous with belts on, but that’s only the case in a very few accidents, he said. It’s definitely worth it to belt in, he said, and the statistics bear that out.