Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Game Warden Files--ATVs and Kids

Over the years we did a lot of work with ATV enforcement. Most times the problems involved adults who took their tickets and dealt with them.  Occasionally, though there were incidents involving kids and they added another level of problems.  If a person is under 16 years old, he can't be issued a ticket into local court, so you have to find other ways to deal with the problem.

The first time I had to get creative was a young fellow who was the son of a friend. My friend had an ATV that he used to haul firewood around his property, tow his ice shanty onto the lake and that sort of thing. His son, however found different uses for it.  He liked to tear up and down a back road not far from his house and rip up any mud hole he could find. One afternoon as I was going down that back road, all of a sudden an ATV was airborne in front of me! It was coming the other direction on the road and had crested a small hill with enough speed to leave the ground. It was high enough that I could see the belly pan of the machine. I could also see the platter-sized eyeballs of my friend's son's face as he saw that he was headed for the hood of my patrol car.

The driver training I'd had over the years--called EVOC--had taught a maneuver called crash avoidance. Even at the low speed I was travelling, it worked and the ATV landed where my car should have been--but was not. By the time I'd turned around, the ATV was no where in sight; but since the face of the operator was a well known to me, I turned around and went to my friends house. Though we couldn't find his boy, the ATV was in the shed very hot--and covered with fresh mud--obviously just run hard.

I chose to believe that the boy had taken the machine off his dad's land without permission and told my friend to have his boy at Town Court on the next court day. Though I couldn't write the kid a normal ticket and this was not something to make a juvenile delinquent case from, I had a plan. There is a little known and seldom used provision of law that allowed a person under 16 years old to be summoned to Traffic Court. In practical terms, that means that after finishing all other court business the judge adjourns court and convenes traffic court--not something that any of them like to do. The judge that night was and remains a good friend who dispensed good justice from his bench. I gave him the run down on the event and told him that I'd leave the entire matter up to his discretion.

Court ran long that night. Many defendants came before the bench and were dealt with by the judge, along with frequent appearances by attorneys. There were many heavy penalties assessed and payed along with some sentences of jail threatened. The young man and his dad sat quietly in the back taking it all in. Finally, when the last defendant left, the judge adjourned the court, dismissed his clerk and called the young man and his dad forward. After the young man told the story to the judge, the father said  he'd "set matters right" and the judge asked me what I thought. I thought that the point had been made--quite soundly. Traffic Court was not convened that night and the young man and his dad went on home. That young man has gone on to have a successful career within a local business. He just had to learn to play within the rules.
Several years later I had an almost identical event on the same road--within a mile of the same spot.  This time I got turned around and chased the machine, which pulled over and stopped in a log landing. Thought the story was told a couple different ways--he'd either felt guilty or had run out of gas; we'll never know which--I put the kid in the back of my car and called for his mother to come get him and the machine. I didn't know this family, and there was no longer a judge that I could get to play the traffic court gambit; so I opted to just write the mother a ticket for permitting the unlawful operation. She arrived--not very happy--and when she saw him in the back of my Blazer said "He's safer there than in my car!" Then I gave her the ticket...that really made her day. She pleaded not guilty to the charge and I purposely neglected to file the requested supporting deposition, so the case was dismissed after some time elapsed. I'm sure that young man payed his penalty at home; the mom didn't need to pay one to the court.

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