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Texas bans tire-puncture devices used by drug runners

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
  • U.S. Border Patrol requested the new law
  • Simple devices known to be highly effective
  • Legislator who introduced measure admits it won't stop drug runners

Washington (CNN) -- Attention, all drug runners. Your days of using caltrops to avoid apprehension are over -- at least in Texas.

Caltrops -- more commonly known as road spikes -- are small spiky objects like those used in the game of jacks. When tossed on roadways, they always point up and have a devastating impact on tires. Drug runners have increasingly used the devices when fleeing from law enforcement officers, officials say.

Beginning Thursday, caltrops are illegal in the Lone Star State.

State Rep. Aaron Pena crafted the caltrop ban at the behest of the U.S. Border Patrol, whose tires have borne the caltrops' trademark slashes.

"There's a portion of my district which goes right up to the border, the (Rio Grande) river," Pena said. "And caltrops are used there probably more than any other location in the United States."

Almost all reported cases of caltrop use can be found in a 20-mile stretch of the border west of McAllen, Texas, authorities said.

"The first time we were exposed to this was 2008 when we had one incident," said Rosendo Hinojosa, chief of the Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley Sector. In 2009, there were 12 incidents, with 13 last year.

The homemade caltrops found in Pena's district probably are made in Mexico. Typically, they are little nails that are welded together. They are cheap, easy to deploy and, Pena says, very effective. "If you run over a caltrop, your tires will deflate," he said.

Caltrops also are indiscriminate. Those that do not puncture the tires of pursuing police cars sometimes puncture the tires of citizens' cars. No one spoke in opposition to the ban at a hearing, Pena said.

Hinojosa said while caltrops are effective, the Border Patrol has a countermeasure. "They can't spike our helicopters," he said.

But caltrops are hardly a new idea. There are numerous references throughout history to caltrops being used to puncture the feet of enemy soldiers or the hooves of their horses. The notorious bank robber John Dillinger, employing a similar tactic, is alleged to have tossed nails behind his car to defeat pursuing police officers following a heist.

The Dillinger gang "actually did it several times. It became part of their robbery technique," said Tony Stewart, author of "Dillinger: The Hidden Truth - Re-loaded."

The new Texas law prohibits the possession, manufacture, transportation, repair or sale of caltrops. But it exempts tire puncture strips that are designed to puncture tires when driven in a specific direction, such as those at car rental facilities, and caltrops used as curios, such as those in museums, or on display in Pena's office.

Will the ban stop drug runners from using caltrops?

"No," Pena conceded. "No, it won't. But it is a small measure that taken with other small measures will add up to an effective response."