Teens, Official Learn Lesson
By JOSH POLTILOVE The Tampa Tribune
Published: Dec 14, 2006
TAMPA - A police operation outside Blake High was supposed to teach students a pricey lesson about wearing seat belts. It wasn't supposed to teach that lesson to the assistant principal.
Within about an hour, Tampa officers had issued $76.50 tickets to seven people for not buckling up, including Assistant Principal Van Ayres.
"I learned from it," Ayres said. "It's an honest mistake. It's not something I normally do."
Officers mistook the youthful-looking administrator for a student. In Florida, police can't cite drivers 18 or older solely for not wearing a seat belt. Ayres said his ticket was later voided.
Students, however, were not so lucky.
Senior Jordan Johnson, 17, was ticketed as he pulled his Dodge into Blake. Johnson said he took his seat belt off when he stopped for breakfast at McDonald's and forgot to put it back on.
He understood why police were at the school, 1701 N. Boulevard.
"I guess it's needed," he said. "But other than that, it kind of sucks."
A similar operation Oct. 27 at Blake saw officers write 27 tickets in 25 minutes.
"You never know when something tragic is going to happen," said police Cpl. William Shaw, who led Friday morning's 11-officer operation. "Why take a chance by not wearing a seat belt?"
Principal Jacqueline Haynes said the drop in tickets shows students are learning the importance of seat belts.
As for her assistant principal, "He's definitely a role model on campus, and kids love Mr. Ayres," she said.
"I wouldn't say he's not a role model because he does not wear his seat belt," Haynes said. "It's just unfortunate today that he was caught not wearing a seat belt."
The state Legislature passed a bill two years ago allowing law enforcement officers to pull over drivers they think are younger than 18 for not wearing a seat belt. Drivers 18 and older can be cited if they are stopped for another traffic violation.
State Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, has filed a bill this year that would allow any motorist, regardless of age, to be stopped for not wearing a belt. The bill is named partly in honor of Katie Marchetti, a Durant High junior who died March 4 following a car accident. Marchetti wasn't wearing a seat belt.
Glorioso likes that police are reminding teenagers to wear seat belts but would prefer if students weren't issued tickets.
"I wish that instead, we could give them a reward when they are wearing seat belts," he said. "I don't know what reward … maybe a free DVD from Blockbuster or something."
Shaw said that approach would be difficult because then police would be pulling people over without probable cause.
"If you're not doing something wrong," he said, "I don't have any right to stop you."