Police grapple with cases of 'snow rage'
Police are finding themselves responding to an increase in calls from residents upset with neighbors or plow drivers who dump snow where it doesn't belong
By Doug Ireland
SALEM, Mass. — Everybody has heard of road rage, but now "snow rage" is becoming a common phrase.
That's because one snowstorm after another in the last month has left more than 4 feet of snow in Southern New Hampshire.
The snow is piling up and so are residents' frustrations, according to area police.
Police are finding themselves responding to an increase in calls from residents upset with neighbors or plow drivers who dump snow where it doesn't belong.
"People are putting it onto other people's property, they are putting it in the roadway," Salem police Lt. Joel Dolan said. "It's something we're keeping an eye on."
Town police logs, including in Salem, are full of incidents in recent weeks where officers have been called to intervene in snow-related disputes.
Salem police responded to Oakridge Avenue on Tuesday after a resident reported her car was hit by a plow that didn't stop.
After nearly a foot of snow fell last weekend, a Salem officer asked a plow operator to stop dumping snow in the middle of Duston Street.
"I would say we're getting several calls after each storm," Dolan said.
There's even been some violence reported, but area police say most disputes are resolved peacefully.
Last week, the operator of a front-end loader reported he was assaulted by a Salem resident. The resident claimed the driver dumped snow on his Main Street property. Police intervened and the matter was resolved.
Dolan said there have been no arrests so far. Police in other local towns said they haven't made any arrests, but are ready to issue warnings if necessary.
In Merrimack, police this week arrested an irate neighbor who blocked a plow that pushed snow across the entrance to his driveway. Menahem Lowry, 75, was charged with disorderly conduct and is to appear in court in March.
Salem and other Southern New Hampshire communities have adopted ordinances aimed at cracking down on people who dump snow in the road or on other people's property.
The fines are usually $50 or $100, according to area police departments.
But it's not just residents who are venting their frustration.
Sandown police Chief Joseph Gordon said his department has had about two dozen incidents this winter, including one a few weeks ago involving an angry private plow driver.
"He would dump every bit of snow into the middle of the road and go to the next (driveway)," Gordon said.
When the plow driver was advised by a highway department worker he wasn't allowed to leave snow in the middle of a street, the driver became confrontational, Gordon said.
"The guy brushed off his license plate and said, 'Give it to the authorities.' He was challenging him," Gordon said. "We will be watching that individual."
Gordon said he's especially concerned about snow being pushed into the road because it it can pose a safety hazard, often reducing a road to one lane.
There have also been incidents where snow dumped in the road has frozen, then damaged town plowing equipment, he said.
Hampstead police had to resolve a dispute a few weeks ago after receiving a call about a plow driver from an upset homeowner.
"He was pushing the snow across the street and onto the neighbor's property," Lt. John Frazier said. "There was no altercation. The plow driver apologized."
Frazier and other police officials said while plow operators have a job to do, they have to follow the law just like everyone else.
"We understand there is no room to put the snow, but they have have to exercise common sense," Frazier said.
Plaistow police Chief Kathleen Jones said her department has responded to several incidents this winter, including one about a plow driver dumping snow in the middle of Main Street.
"People are just getting frustrated because there is no place put the snow," she said. "We just couldn't have someone plowing snow in the roadway."
There have been no violent incidents, Jones said, at least nothing that compares to the fistfights that have broken out between people competing for parking spaces during the holiday season.
Gordon found out Tuesday that it's not just plow drivers and people with snowblowers who are breaking the town's snow ordinance.
He encountered an Excalibur Drive resident in her 70s who was shoveling out her mailbox, dumping the snow in the road.
"I confronted her and said, 'Don't do it,"' Gordon said. "She was violating the ordinance. ... But she said, 'The snow is high, I can't throw it far."'
Gordon ended up shoveling out the mailbox himself.
"Am I going to summons a 71-year-old woman? Absolutely not," he said.
Copyright 2015 The Eagle-Tribune