“I consider that the trash I pick up belongs in the NDOT trash cans since it is from their roads,” says Carolyn Usinger. (Photo courtesy Carolyn Usinger)
“Everyone knows me as the Trash Lady,” Carolyn Usinger said Tuesday, hours after appearing in a Washoe County courtroom. “Even the judge who convicted me. He said ‘Oh, yeah. I’ve seen you picking up trash.’”
“I’m tired of people trashing Tahoe,” she says, adding she’s picked up more than 150,000 pieces of trash along Highways 28, 50 and 431 in recent years. But no good deed goes unpunished. Usinger now has two misdemeanors on her record for dumping the fruits of her labor where they belong – in the garbage.
Her mistake was to throw it all away in a dumpster owned by the State of Nevada, specifically the Department of Transportation.
“I consider that the trash I pick up belongs in the NDOT trash cans since it is from their roads,” says Usinger, noting she also pays taxes that support the state and its dumpsters.
But a Washoe County deputy saw it differently when he came upon Usinger throwing the fruits of eight hours of labor in an NDOT dumpster over the Fourth of July weekend. She got a citation and an admonition to obtain the required permit to pick up trash.
But Washoe County Sheriff Darin Balaam, whose signature is required on the permit application, won’t sign off. Usinger says it’s not personal.
“He says that picking up trash is too dangerous and therefore he will not sign it. And apparently NDOT tried to talk him into signing it and did not succeed,” she says. “But it’s his office that is ticketing me.”
The sheriff did not respond to requests for comment.
“We get these requests maybe five to ten times a year,” says a spokeswoman for NDOT. “We are usually able to accommodate them by designating a specific area.”
The state says Usinger can apply to clean up another area outside of Washoe County, where law enforcement may be willing to sign off.
“It’s a convenient runaround so nobody has to do anything,” Usinger complains. But the Trash Lady of Tahoe was not to be deterred.
The Tahoe basin is home to Nevada’s black bears, who have been lured into homes by the scent of improperly disposed garbage, labeled ‘problem bears’ as a result, and killed by wildlife authorities.
On Saturday, after picking up trash at Zephyr Cove, Usinger says she came upon a “huge mess” at Spooner Summit, including a pound of melting, bear-baiting butter. “Someone left it there, assuming someone like me would come along and clean it up.”
She scooped up the garbage and returned to the scene of her previous crime, the NDOT dumpster.
Usinger first disposed of the remnants of a dumpster-side bear picnic before cleaning out her car. But the Washoe County deputy, likely anticipating a repeat violation on the holiday weekend, cruised by and caught Usinger red-handed.
“I told him that I had spent six weeks trying to get NDOT to give me permission,” Usinger says. Deputy Cameron Jeter was unmoved and issued another ticket. “I even told him I had cleaned up after the bears.”
Usinger says Jeter suggested she get her own dumpster. She declined.
The bad news – on Tuesday, the judge ruled Usinger indeed broke the law, found her guilty of two misdemeanors and sentenced her to community service picking up garbage. The good news – she’s already done the time.
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