This cop story happened in 2006 on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend—the day of the wedding of our son, Andrew, and his bride-to-be, Karen. At eight in morning I was cruising along in a rental SUV in Letchworth State Park in western New York State. The Park is about 12 miles long and two miles wide, situated along a canyon rising above the Genesee River, and hailed as the “Grand Canyon of the East.” I was headed to a small town at the southern end of the park to purchase food and supplies for a wedding event later that morning. The road was like a two-lane interstate highway in the wilderness–wide shoulders, flat, and few signs of civilization anywhere. I had been driving about 15 minutes, had not seen a single vehicle, and admittedly had not been paying attention to the speed limit when suddenly I realized the flashing lights of a police car were flashing behind me. I immediately pulled over on the shoulder.
You know the routine. A young officer got out the car, asked for my driver’s license, and informed me that I was going 75 miles an hour in a 15 miles per hour zone, which would result in maximum points and a $500 fine and probably the loss of my license.
“Where was the 15 MPH speed limit sign?” I respectfully asked. “There are no houses anywhere and no side roads.”
He replied that if I had been paying attention I would have seen it since it was only about 25 yards past the 55 MPH speed limit sign. Okay, I got it, speed trap, but for the life of me I could not figure out where the cop car had been hiding. There were no intersections or side roads. Not a good start to the day. He took my driver’s license and went back to his car where he remained for at least 15 minutes. I remained grimly in the car, bracing for the worst but not for what happened next.
When the cop approached the car, I realized how young he was. He could not have been more than a year or two out of high school, clean cut, and serious.
“Well, buddy, you are in real trouble now! You are driving without a license, and that is a felony in the state of New York. You will do time for this.”
“Wait a minute!” I responded, trying to be as respectful as possible. “I just gave you my driver’s license.”
“Yeah, but it is not valid. It is for a city, not a state, and we require a state license. I looked up the list of states myself, and The District of Columbia is not listed.”
I could not help smiling, held back a chuckle, and with some effort managed to maintain my contrite composure.
“You are exactly right officer, it is not a state, but it is like a state.”
“That is not enough,” he replied, “Being like a state is not the same as being a state. I am going to have to arrest you.”
“Look,” I answered, coming dangerously close to losing my composure, “Washington DC is a city, but it is also the capital of the United States of America. That is where I live, and the closest thing we have to a state driver’s license is one from the District of Columbia. That is just the way it works.”
“Well, it should be a state; and it isn’t, and there is nothing I can do about that.”
“You and I agree on that, officer. But before you haul me off to the jail, could I plead with you to talk to your supervisor and see what he has to say about my license?”
He thought about it for a while, shrugged his shoulders, and headed back to his car, with a final comment that he would try, but it would not make any difference. Fifteen minutes later he returned with a defeated look on his face. He said I got off this time but still would pay big time for going 60 miles per hour over the speed limit. He handed me the ticket and stated I would have a chance to argue my case in court in a week or two.
The wedding happened that afternoon. I officiated at the event, which was a huge success despite the fact that for this outdoor wedding which was supposed to happen next to a huge waterfall, Tropical Storm Ernesto dropped over a foot of rain starting before noon and not ending until after midnight. (Fortunately, two tents were set up for the reception, and that is where the wedding took place, to the delight of small children running back and forth through the waterfall that was happening where the two tents were attached.)
However, I was still stuck with a big bill and points that would go on my record. I was guilty as charged, going 75 MPH in a 15 MPH zone.
The next week the letter came from the county courthouse, setting a court date for the following week. I surely was not going to go back to New York to argue a case that I had no chance of winning, so I responded with a letter that went something like this:
“Your Honor, I plead guilty as charged. I was speeding well above the speed limit. I deserve whatever fines you give me. I am very sorry for this and can only throw myself at your feet and beg for mercy. I do not have an excuse except that I was distracted and preoccupied because my son was to be married that afternoon and I had been asked by him to officiate at the wedding. This, of course, is no excuse, and all I can to is respectfully ask you to consider the circumstances associated with the case.”
In the letter I enclosed the write-up of the event in the Buffalo newspaper and circled my name where I was mentioned as officiating the ceremony.
Two weeks later I opened a thin envelope from the courthouse stating that the judge had rejected my guilty plea of going 75 miles an hour in a 15 MPH zone but instead would accept a guilty plea of going 39 miles per hour in a 30 MPH zone, no points and a fine of $100. I mailed the check that afternoon along with my revised guilty plea.