For the last 14 years a black and white 1995 Ford Crown Victoria has sat alongside Highway 93 in the west shore town of Lakeside, typically near the bottom of one of the steep inclines that lead into the Flathead Lake adjacent community to its north and south.
Called “Lucky,” the former police car from Polson is outfitted with a light bar on top, six-point badge stickers, and a decal saying “Lakeside Decoy.” A mannequin named Omar sits in the car, watching the road and, ideally, looking enough like an actual police officer in a patrol car that speeding drivers find the motivation to slow down as they enter town.
But Lucky has seen better days. A host of mechanical and electrical issues, including the need for a new engine, have piled up, making it difficult to reposition the vehicle during the summer months when locals feel unfamiliar drivers are most in need of a reminder to watch their speedometer as they transition from highway speed into driving through a population center. In September the Lakeside-Somers Chamber of Commerce announced it would be retiring Lucky, but in a social media post said that its legacy would live on as “the hardest working resident on the west shore.”
“This year and last year, he was mostly stagnant because every time we would move him, you would have to jump his battery,” said Ali Coleman, the chamber’s executive director. Some days it took more than just giving the battery a jump to get Lucky on the go.
“It was a three-hour ordeal for me to move him a couple of times,” Coleman said.
Lucky’s immobility also may have encouraged vandalism. This year alone the car has had its windshield smashed, and it has also been broken into. It was during a break-in that Omar’s “sheriff’s hat” was stolen. The car has also at times been painted over with graffiti.
Lucky was originally procured back in 2008 largely due to the efforts of longtime Lakeside residents Deborah and Jeremy Newell, with Deborah Newell leading the charge.
“The reason why we got it was the traffic was going so fast through town, there was just no control,” Jeremy Newell said. Eventually the car became a beloved local icon for some residents.
The Newells were also part of a group called SLOW, an acronym for saving lives on the west shore, which was able to finance speed indicator signs near the entrance to town.
“Our whole goal was to be safe and to save lives,” Newell said.
Fundraisers over the years had helped with the upkeep of Lucky, and then a few years ago it was given over to the charge of the chamber of commerce. High school automotive maintenance programs had volunteered time fixing Lucky up, but eventually between the mechanical issues, and the rising cost of insurance for the car, the chamber felt like a decision had to be made. When the chamber announced earlier this month that it was time to retire Lucky, the Newells and a group of other like-minded citizens got together to find a replacement vehicle. The campaign to replace Lucky launched a couple of weeks ago. Last Thursday word reached the group that the Montana Department of Justice might be able to help.
Lucky’s replacement will be a donated former Montana Highway Patrol vehicle. The 2014 Dodge Charger was retired after it hit the mileage limit that MHP sets for its vehicles. It went on to have a second act as a vehicle operations training car at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy in Helena, according to Kyler Nerison, the Montana Department of Justice’s communications director. The car had actually reached the point where it was scheduled to be sent to salvage, Nerison said, adding that he anticipates it will be ready to go within a couple weeks.
As for the original Lucky? He has been sold to a collector.
“We’re just happy he’s going to find a new home and retire peacefully,” Coleman said.
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