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Tomato Patch: Rethinking my roadside cell phone policy

Posted on Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 12:38 pm

By Greg Glassner

H-P Editor Emeritus

During my eight-year tenure as editor of the Herald-Progress I wrote several editorials condemning texting while driving and non-emergency cell-phone use of any kind while behind the wheel. As a believer in practicing what I preach, I have pretty much adhered to those principles.

If someone calls me, I usually put my turn signal on and try to pull over to the side of the road at the earliest opportunity to carry out any conversation in a stationary position. If I need to examine my phone’s GPS I usually pull over and don a pair of reading glasses.

I may have to revise that strategy.

Why, you ask?

Well, in planning a recent trip to Florida, I booked a two-night stay at a low cost motel in Winter Haven, to attend the annual 12 Hours of Sebring sports car race some 40 miles to the south. (As it turned out, there were several hotels and motels closer, but those communities did not show up my pocket-sized map of Florida.)

Anyway, after leaving the track after sunset March 14, I drove north from Sebring. Using my smart-phone GPS and a new, much larger Florida map, I discovered that Winter Haven was about eight miles west of US 27 on US 17.

Driving between the two highways on Cypress Gardens Boulevard I passed the Legoland amusement park and many chain restaurants, which reassured me that my blind booking, though out of the way, was at least in a tourist-friendly neighborhood.

Shortly after turning north on US 17, I realized I must have missed the motel. So I pulled over into the entrance of a business that was closed for the night and consulted my GPS, which showed me close to my destination. Then I scrolled through my emails for the reservation with the motel’s street address in it.

So absorbed, I was only vaguely aware of a somewhat disheveled woman angling across the four-lane highway on foot until she suddenly appeared at my passenger side window, which was lowered a few inches, and started telling me she had run out of gas and needed help.

I replied that I was not from around there and was trying to find my destination. She then tried opening the unlocked passenger door as if to get in my car.

I was immediately surrounded by a swarm of Sheriff’s deputies in flack vests who screamed up in several patrol cars with lights flashing.

The alpha-dog deputy doing most of the shouting informed me that the woman was a “known prostitute” (his words) and that he was part of some sort of Polk County Sheriff’s Department vice squad task force. This guy had obviously watched every episode of “Cops” and “Law & Order” twice and had a flair for the overdramatic.

So much happened so fast from that point on that I cannot recall all of it, but I was asked more than once if I had any guns or drugs in my car, asked to surrender my driver’s license, and submitted to a pat down to prove I didn’t have a .357 magnum secreted under my T-shirt and cutoff shorts. A female officer also patted down the woman who had approached my car without finding anything.

Convinced the alleged lady of the night had tossed drugs into my car when her arrest appeared imminent, they asked my permission to search my vehicle, which I gave them.

Luckily I had no guns and the only beverages or drugs on board were bottled water in a cooler and my blood pressure prescription medication in my suitcase.

I thought about a lot of snide remarks I could have made during all of this, but (fortunately) confined my comments to answering their many questions with a respectful “Yes, sir,” “No, sir.” (I too have seen my share of TV cop shows and know what happens when people resist arrest.)

I repeated that I had pulled over to try to find my motel’s address on my cell-phone and that the woman had said nothing more suggestive to me than that she had run out of gas.

The alpha-dog deputy also wanted to know why I was staying in Winter Haven, adding, “There are plenty of motels over on Route 27.” (I’ll bet the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce would love to hear that.)

The excitement eventually died down and the task force gave up on charging me with anything, although they seemed quite disappointed. And I made it to my motel and to the race the next day.

I realized later that my main concern at the time was that I had spent $95 on a two-day race ticket and might be spending race day in the Polk County slammer, thanks to their overzealous deputies.

I suppose I should have been more concerned about how I might locate a good lawyer 800 miles from home.

If I took anything useful away from this incident, it is to lock my car doors and look for some bright lights before pulling off the road to check my phone’s GPS.

And the next time I hear of someone accused of a crime proclaiming his innocence, I may be a little more sympathetic.