Lawtey and Disorder

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, March 18, 2014 No Comment(s)

On such an interesting news day there are several options for comment. The first: the landmark Rustic Inn in Fort Lauderdale has new ownership, leaving control of the Oreal family estate. The famous crab place dates to 1955, one of only a handful of restaurants with such longevity. We will save that story, and others like it, for our 50th anniversary issue next winter.

Then, there is the latest wrinkle in the polo enthusiast’s DUI retrial, in which the judge denied a request to drop the case because the wrecked, expensive car had been destroyed after it was turned over to an insurance company, after numerous requests to have it turned over. It turns out that those requests may have come not from the insurance company, but from unknown sources. The state suspects those sources were the defense team, by way of setting up grounds for an appeal. Since there are lawyers involved, the state deserves sympathy. This is the one where the first trial, which resulted in a guilty verdict, was nixed because of juror misconduct, and is being delayed right now with an argument of the validity of the blood tests. The fatal accident happened four years ago. Maybe it is time to change lawyers (for the second time) in order to buy more time, or perhaps argue that this is a case of identity theft and the defendant is not the defendant. Does a multimillionaire shop at Target?

However, these stories fail to meet the standard of The Miami Herald’s Fred Grimm, who has today’s winning entry with a column detailing the imminent demise of a North Florida town called Hampton, known as the champion of speed traps on U.S. 301. Grimm reports that the town of less than 500 people (and 17 cops at one time) took in $616,960 in fines in two years. That involved 12,698 tickets. The money, incidentally, seems to be missing. The town made the mistake of giving a ticket to a state legislator, who is leading the charge to exterminate it.

Hampton is one of three speed traps in the area, the others being Lawtey and Waldo. Therein lies the reason for today’s priority coverage. Flash back to 1994. We were coming back from the mother-in-law’s funeral in Philadelphia. Having battled I-95 fast traffic for a thousand miles, we decided to take a slower, more relaxed route from Jacksonville. We cruised an uncrowded U.S. 301, and were doing 55 mph on speed control when we saw a red light in the distance. We tapped the brake and cruised to the light, where a cop with radar hit us with a ticket. The speed limit had dropped dramatically in a short distance. Classic speed trap. The wife complained, playing for sympathy that we had just come from her mother’s funeral. The cop did not care. Speed trappers never do. Having gone out of our way to choose a slower, safer ride, we were instead victimized.

We wrote about Lawtey, calling the police state there a form of organized crime that should be illegal. We contacted Attorney General Bob Butterworth’s office and, probably because we were writing about it, were treated with respect. A spokesman said the state knew about these towns and their deplorable speed traps, and would like to do something about them. That was 20 years ago and despite considerable national publicity, they still exist. Although, Hampton’s appears doomed.

The 1994 incident led to complications. We protested the ticket and wound up with a suspended license, which we did not know until after the fact. We called Lawtey one day and a clerk in the police station (about the size of a phone booth) had to get off the call because of an altercation that we could hear over the phone. Somebody was shouting. Likely an irate driver threatening to kill someone. We understand. We did not keep records of everything involved in the incident. But we sure kept a grudge. Consider Hampton partial retribution. But it’s not enough. It’s not even close.

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