Two Charlotte County Sheriff's Office deputies earned first and second place over the weekend at the Volusia County Sheriff's Office Motorcycle Skills Challenge.
The event raised money for the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranch and the Volusia Sheriff's Youth Foundation.
Deputy First Class William Weisspfennig, who has been in the Motor Unit for two and a half years, took second place, beat only by Deputy First Class Leamon Combs, who has been riding for more than 10 years.
"If I'm gonna get beat, why not get beat by my motorcycle instructor, the guy who taught me?" said Weisspfennig. "I was proud that at least we took home one and two. To me, it didn't matter who took first and who took second as long as we took it in that order. I'm not gonna lie, I wanted to beat him, but he's been riding for 10-plus years, and I've still got some things to learn."
Combs said it was an "awesome feeling" to see his training pay off.
"Here we train every month for one full day of duty," he said. "We've been training throughout the years and to bring all of that together at this competition and see how we fare with someone else who's been training or has the same amount of experience was a great feeling."
Both deputies spend their days focused on traffic safety in high-crash areas throughout the county. On their motorcycles, they get a close-up view of everything going on around them, they said.
"We're actually utilizing all of our senses when we're out on patrol," Combs said. "We don't have any distractions like AM/FM radio, air conditioning, or the window's up where we're encapsulated inside this vehicle. We're in the environment, so all of our senses are constantly in tune with everything that's going on around us."
That's how they're able to pull multiple motorists over at once, which Combs laughingly said is his "specialty."
"It's easy when you're on a motorcycle to direct people to do things that inside of a patrol car they can't see your arms or your gestures or anything," he said. "Usually I'll flag one over and then I'll stop and flag another one or two or three."
Weisspfennig said while they're standing at their motorcycles typing up a warning or ticket, if they see another violation, they're able to quickly pull over another vehicle.
"It's very easy to do on a motorcycle, because you're not confined to a car where you're looking forward and you really can't see behind you except for the mirrors."
In addition to competing, they said the skills challenge was a good time to train and become more proficient in their motorcycle skills. To become a motorcycle patrol officer, both deputies had to pass the normal civilian motorcycle safety class as well as an intense, two-week police motorcycle class that covers riding off road, in sand, woods, grass, rocks, high-speed braking, and wet road conditions.
"Take the motorcycle safety foundation course and the exercises in there are very similar to what we do, but we shrink them way down to what we consider a standard for us," Weisspfennig said. "They have like 24 feet, we're shrinking it down to 18 feet and doing the same exercise. And a lot more of them are timed."
Combs said when he took the class with the Orange County Sheriff's Office, they started out with a class of 21 but only three passed the class.
"It's almost like an exclusive club," he said. "To be a law enforcement officer, there's a very small percentage of the public that can meet the qualifications... Out of those law enforcement officers, only a very small percent has what it takes to go through the course and carry out law enforcement duties on a motorcycle. That really stands out to me as we are special in a way, in my mind."