Donna’s security cracks down on crime

MARYSVILLE – Stereotypes can be hard to change, but Donna’s Truck Stop and the trucking industry nationwide are working to do just that.

Truckers used to have a rough reputation. Many thought they liked to party and drive aggressively, not caring about others on the road.

But Bill Couch, owner-operator at Donna’s, said laws have changed so there is a new breed of truck drivers – more professional. Drug and alcohol tests and shorter hours they can drive (11) mean more family oriented people are in the business.

“They’re a hard-working group,” Bill said. “Truckers won’t put up with it,” meaning things that cause trouble.

“The industry as a whole is trying to combat this,” said Couch’s son Brian, another owner-operator.

Donna’s works well with local law enforcement. Nearby are the state patrol, sheriff’s department, and Marysville and Tulalip police. Bill said that rather than being a problem for law enforcement, the truck stop and truckers, too, often help police.

An example is when a Mountlake Terrace girl went missing. Brian went through security video for about 10 hours because someone had thought they had seen the girl at Donna’s.

The security system at Donna’s is elaborate, with 30 cameras or more placed all around the property. Each camera can zoom in so close you could see the whiskers on a chin. So if someone tries to sell drugs or sex in the parking lot, security can pounce on them in seconds. In the control booth they also can take down license plates, take pictures and gather evidence to help police.

Wanda Jorgensen, store general manager, said if anyone looks out of place, and they are looking around, they probably are up to no good. Staff wastes no time in contacting them.

“They’re outta here like a shot,” Brian said.

Donna’s has signs all over the property warning customers of inappropriate behavior.

“There’s no panhandling; we don’t allow that,” Jorgensen said. “We’re vigilant.”

If someone is even caught asking for gas money, employees will take their picture and put it in a photo album at the checkout counter. If the person comes back, they will call the sheriff.

“They’ll 86 them,” Jorgensen said of deputies.

Donna’s also has no patience for thieves. Brian told the story of a man who stole a milkshake. They caught it on tape and took his picture, which was placed in the album. When he returned sometime later, staff made him pay for the milkshake, and told him never to come back.

Signs also are posted that Donna’s is a drug-free zone. Because the truck stop is on federal tribal land, having any drug, including marijuana, is a felony.

“It’s the same as a school. This is a safe place for truck drivers,” Jorgensen said.

Drivers have been known to come all the way up here from Tacoma to park overnight because they know it’s a safe place, Bill added. “We take it seriously.”

Bill said drug users are easy to spot. Staff can tell what people are on just by looking at them.

“They’re good at it,” he said.

Donna’s is also careful about what it sells in its store. There are no butane torches that can be used to cook drugs. There are no Zigzag papers to roll pot. There’s not even aluminum foil.

“We’ve modified what we sell,” Brian said, adding no nudie magazines are sold there. Their espresso stand also is family oriented. No bikini baristas there.

“Nothing revealing” is in their dress code, Brian said.

Still another sign advertises Truckers Against Trafficking, a nationwide organization that is on the lookout for sex traffickers. There are videos so truckers and Donna’s employees can learn what to watch out for.

“If someone’s dropped off we are instantly out there,” Jorgensen said. “If someone’s just looking around we’ll head out to the trucks.”

Bill said it’s not like the old days when someone would put a name and number on a bathroom stall. It is more hidden, using social media.

Speaking of restrooms, staff checks on them if someone is in one too long, just to make sure they aren’t doing something illegal.

Donna’s even cracks down on loiterers.

“We do as much as we can,” Bill said. “We have a short leash.”

Donna’s also is a member of the National Association of Truck Stop Operators. It provides online training and support, including information on Amber Alerts.

Lisa Mullings, president and CEO of Natso, said the organization has been focusing on online training on its website about human trafficking the past few years. That problem relies on moving victims quickly from place to place, often along interstates.

“But it effects all modes of transportation,” she said, referring to a recent headline story about a capture on an airline. Another focus is Amber Alerts, again because it makes sense they could end up at a truck stop.

“These are issues that touch our industry,” Mullings said.

Jorgensen said it’s not like they don’t have any fun working there. The restaurant is top-notch, with large portions at reasonable prices. And people do like to have their picture taken with the Sasquatch.

“Our boss is a big kid at heart,” she said.

Sex trafficking

•Truckers Against Trafficking: Young girls forced into sexual slavery need your help. If you see a minor working a lot or suspect pimp control, call 1-888-3737-888. Since 2004 stings have rescued hundreds of children, recovered millions of dollars and arrested numerous perpetrators, who have drugged, coerced, beaten, threatened and sold them for sex or labor. The organization provides training for truckers at www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org.

•Snohomish County: Has a human trafficking hotline at 425-258-9037. They say victims of human trafficking are 10 to 35 years old and often of minorities, indigenous or refugees. They are susceptible to being misled, forced or allured by traffickers. But they also are forced into labor jobs like domestic, farm or factory workers. For the sex victims, they are often lured into a romantic relationship then promised riches. They can be found online, fake massage parlors, brothels, street prostitution and escort services. The Sexual Exploitation Intervention Network has taken on the mission to “end domestic sex trafficking in Snohomish County through education, prevention and intervention services.”

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