Wyoming welcomed its new highway patrol commander with howling winds that nearly knocked him off his feet.
Col. Tim Cameron has had a sharp learning curve so far this year after taking over as administrator of the Wyoming Highway Patrol in January, coming to the Cowboy State from St. Mary’s County, Maryland.
Welcome To Wyoming
Cameron hardly had a chance to settle in when there was a massive 50-vehicle pileup on Interstate 80 between Elk Mountain and Laramie, with one fatality.
Upon arriving at the scene, Cameron at first thought the doors on his patrol car were jammed.
“Then I realized I had parked with my vehicle’s nose into the wind,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
That meant the Wyoming gale had welded his Dodge Charger’s doors shut.
“I had to struggle to get out of the vehicle without getting bashed by my car door,” he said.
Then came another new experience.
“It was the first time I’d been blown across a highway on the ice,” he said.
He managed to stay on his on his feet, however.
Not long afterward, one of Cameron’s troopers was hurt when his patrol vehicle was struck by a semi on Highway 59 in Converse County. Cameron was one of the first on the scene, as was again nearly blown off his feet on the icy road – although that time, new rubber spikes on the bottom of his boots helped mitigate the hazard.
Later, he sat with the trooper at Memorial Hospital of Converse County until the trooper’s wife arrived.
“She asked him, ‘How is it out there?’ And he replied, ‘Well, it’s slushy and a little breezy,’” Cameron said.
“I told them, ‘Hurricanes on the Eastern Seaboard where I just came from aren’t as bad as the winds you have here, and that’s what your calling ‘breezy?’” Cameron said.
Despite those early experiences, Cameron said he absolutely made the right choice to continue his law enforcement career in Wyoming. He said he’s glad to be here because of the awe-inspiring landscapes, the challenges of the job and the people.
“The only way I can describe the quality of the people of Wyoming is that they just have grit,” he said.
Impressed Right Away With The Troopers
Recounting the massive I-80 pileup, Cameron said rolling up on that scene was daunting. There were more than 40 big rigs entangled in the wreckage, along with numerous passenger vehicles.
After decades in law enforcement, “I had never been on a scene anything like that,” he said.
But he quickly noticed something else – how well the WHP troopers were handling the seemingly insurmountable chaos.
“There were taking what seemed like an unmanageable situation and making it manageable,” Cameron said, and that’s when he knew that he’d taken command of a top-notch department.
He said he’s also incredibly impressed with school bus drivers who braved blizzard conditions to come to the scene so those caught up in the crash could take shelter from the storm inside the buses.
“Somebody thanked me for taking the time to visit with the drivers. And I told them, ‘Honestly, the main reason I’m in here is to get warmed up,’” he said. “My face was frozen, my hands were frozen. But yes, I enjoyed visiting with the bus drivers too.”
The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office dates back until at least 1637. With the help of some local historians, Cameron said he determined that it might go all the way back to 1634.
And Cameron had a good life and a great career there. He and his wife Angie have two grown sons, Scott and Shawn, and a golden retriever named Kevin.
However, after serving four consecutive terms as sheriff, Cameron decided not to run for reelection. He wanted to stay in law enforcement, but also wanted a change.
He and his family had visited Wyoming a couple of times, so when he found out that WHP was looking for a new commander, he didn’t hesitate to apply.
It was a long process, and Cameron said the more he learned about WHP and Wyoming, the more he liked the prospect of coming here. Gov. Mark Gordon and others making the call on hiring a new WHP administrator also liked what they saw and offered him the job.
Cameron told them he wouldn’t leave St. Mary’s County until he finished his tenure as sheriff in December 2022.
“I didn’t want to leave until I had fulfilled my obligation to the people who had elected me sheriff there. I didn’t want to be that guy who walked away before my tenure was complete,” he said. “Not only did Governor Gordon and the other people in Wyoming say that was OK, they told me that they endorsed and supported that sort of dedication.”
New Crop Of Troopers
Cameron said that when he decided to move on from Maryland, the last thing he wanted was an easy gig.
“I wasn’t looking for a retirement job. I wanted something that was going to be a challenge,” he said.
And he’s come to Wyoming at a challenging time. In addition to adjusting to the vast landscapes and brutal winters in the Cowboy State, he’s taken command of the WHP at a time when the agency has been criticallyunderstaffed.
WHP is short 44 of its full allotted staff of 208 troopers, he said. And there also are openings for dispatchers and other support personnel.
Still, he said he was heartened to meet 43 hopeful trooper cadets early Wednesday in Cheyenne.
“It was so great to look into that room and see those 43 smiling faces,” he said.
The applicants were diverse and also mostly young, he added. And it’s the largest class of potential recruits that WHP has had in many years, and possibly ever.
They were going through the written exam and background check stage of the recruitment process, Cameron said. After several more steps, successful candidates will be sent to a 22-week Peace Officers Standards and Training academy, and then be given training assignment in various parts of Wyoming.
Cameron said he’s immensely grateful for how supportive Wyoming residents are of law enforcement.
“I was in a conservative area in Maryland, so I was sort of in a bubble,” he said. “In many parts of the Eastern Seaboard, police officers are asked to leave restaurants. My troopers here will never have to deal with that sort of thing.”
Moreover, Cameron said respect between residents and peace officers in Wyoming is a two-way street.
“We regard ourselves as the guardians of Wyoming,” he said. “Previously in my career, I had never stopped to help a citizen change their tire while on duty. Since I’ve been in Wyoming, I’ve done that four or five times. It’s just the standard that we as officers hold each other to here.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.