My run in with a moonlighting county sheriff

Today is November 25th, 2011. It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I was traveling from my parents’ home in Fort Myers back to my home in Oviedo. I’m writing this on the 25th in order to get every detail I can into this post. I had left sometime around 9am because I knew I had to be at home in order to do some chores, pack, and then head to the airport. So after just over 3 hours of driving I was starting to get hungry and I decided to stop by the Four Rivers BBQ, 4R, in Winter Park which has absolutely awesome food. The whole ride back to central Florida had been relatively enjoyable. There was backed up traffic near Lake Buena Vista due to the outlet malls and crazy shoppers in the area. I just put them in my rearview mirror and kept on driving. I exited I-4 at Fairbanks and proceeded towards 4R.

I saw my destination and the light was still green but because I had to turn left I had to wait for the oncoming traffic to pass through the light first. As I waited for the traffic to pass I noticed that there was a guy on a motorized scooter running on the sidewalk and we would have intersected paths so I waited for him to pass by as well. I then safely made my left turn. As I entered the side street, Formosa Ave., I observed the parking lot and it was full except for two spots. One directly on the side of the establishment next to the pick-up order spot and one in the back of the establishment that had just been vacated by a pickup truck that was backing up in order to exit the parking lot. There was also a wagon, I think it was a Subaru, that was in the parking area near the empty spot on the side of the building. Seeing the way as clear I put my blinker on and entered the parking area as soon as the truck was clear and I proceeded to park and gather my effects.

I opened my door and began to step out when Deputy First Class (DFC) VanKirk greeted me and immediately asked for my driver license, registration, and insurance. I pulled out my license and handed it to him and asked what I did wrong. He then repeated that he needed my proof of insurance and registration as well as asking me if I had any outstanding tickets or warrants at which point my stress hit the ceiling. As I fumbled for my envelope that holds my insurance and registration I asked again what I did and he stated that I had passed a vehicle on the left side as well as crossing the double yellow lines to do so. My jaw hit the ground. I was left dumbfounded. I was still fumbling with getting out my registration and I handed it to him and put back the envelope and closed my door. He then repeated that he needed my insurance card. I was so flabbergasted that I had totally forgotten so I reopened the door and retrieved the envelope from the seat and gave him the insurance card.

He then told me that I could lock my car and accompany him over to his cruiser which was parked under a tree in the street. I asked him where he was when this was happening and he stated that he was right in front of his car and he saw the whole event and that there was a car waiting right behind his parked cruiser with it’s blinker flashing in order to turn into the parking lot. I kept telling him that I didn’t see that car or it’s flashing blinker. He then flippantly asked me if I had a vision impairment. I was still in shock. I crossed the street with him and he entered his car in order to call in the license and registration. I stood in front of his car on the sidewalk awaiting the result.

While I was standing there two other cars performed the exact same maneuver that I had except for there wasn’t a car to their right other than the police cruiser. I waited about five minutes standing for everyone who was enjoying their lunches could judge me from a distance. About fifty feet further down the sidewalk was a late-middle-aged man with greying hair and mustache that was just standing there watching. There was also a technician or two from Brighthouse or CenturyLink working on the lines or poles that were above the street. I watched as DFC VanKirk communicated on his radio back and wrote up my ticket. He exited his vehicle handed me my documents¬†and then gave me the yellow copy of the ticket after telling me my options. He explained that it was three points and a $164 fine. I was still stunned but I mentioned that while he was in his car two other cars had crossed the double yellow in the same fashion. He told me that they didn’t pass a car on the left while crossing the line.

I was no longer steamed. I became very angry. I had to hold back so much so that I didn’t do anything really stupid like lash out at this cop. I really wanted to call him a liar. I should have tracked down which car I supposedly cut off. Instead I decided to go get something to eat. That was my goal but I was still extremely mad and I yelled a few things out loud. I needed to vent and so I was the dog barking at the night. I started to cross the street but I figured DFC Van Kirk might site me for jaywalking as he had already given me a trumped up ticket and in my fuming state I didn’t want to take the chance so I walked out to the Fairbanks intersection and waited for the crosswalk to light up before crossing to the side with the business.

I then waited my turn, ordered a brisket sandwich, mac & cheese, and grilled corn. I always get a little frustrated at the lack of preparedness that tends to happen to those people in front of me when I’m waiting to order but today my mind was on other things. I paid and went outside to the dining area. I filled my drink and I saw a bunch of employees on the backside of the dining area doing various tasks. I asked one of them if I could please speak with a manager. I had the idea that because DFC Van Kirk was just standing on the other side of the road that he may actually be moonlighting for 4R. I waited about 5 minutes holding my tray of untouched food. When the manager came out, he actually seemed to be the head cook as he was wearing an apron and had just washed his hands, I immediately asked him if DFC Van Kirk was hired by the restaurant and he answered in the affirmative. He was hired to help direct traffic. I then told him that I would never eat at that 4R location as the deputy had given me a ticket based on the messed up parking conditions at that restaurant. I informed him that I had no problems with the food or staff and that the decision was completely based on the fact that I was given a stupid ticket. I could feel myself getting rather emotional, somewhere between frustrated and angry, so I then took my tray of food and stood at the railing, as there were no apparent open seats, and began to eat. I noticed that DFC Van Kirk was standing on the sidewalk in the shade chatting with the grey mustached man.

A couple of minutes later the manager and another gentleman, I’m assuming the real manager, came over and asked me to explain the situation again. I was in the middle of chewing so I couldn’t respond immediately but when I could I recounted what had happened and my vow to not return based on the fact that they had hired an Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy to help direct traffic and he instead took the opportunity to stand around and then give me a ticket. I was starting to get emotional again and I completely lost my appetite. I was on the verge of becoming nauseous. The two managers left me and went to talk to DFC Van Kirk. I took the opportunity to pack up the remainder of my food which was pretty much all of it and as I was filling my drink the two managers returned. They told me that there were always two sides to every story and that the deputy wouldn’t fight the ticket if I were to take it to court. They attempt to console me that even though it was a little bit of a pain that things would be alright. I was already angry and then left in a huff. I regrettably bumped into a few people on the way out and I tried to say sorry to each one of them as I went out to my car.

I opened my car, placed my food on the seat and my phone in a cup holder, buckled my seatbelt and checked to see if I could safely back out. I could only see directly behind me so it would have been really helpful if someone, say a deputy, could have been flagging people to let them know when it was safe to proceed. As I was backing out I could see another SUV pulling out two cars from me so I halted my progress in order to let them have complete access to anywhere they needed to go in the cramped parking lot. I then backed up in the parking lot up to the point where I could then pull forward around a pole such that I could pull out onto Formosa facing forward. I would have backed all of the way out into the street but as I couldn’t see anything besides what was directly behind me and there wasn’t someone directing traffic on Formosa I instead had to maneuver around a really bad obstacle for a parking lot.

As I pulled forward I noticed that DFC VanKirk was still just standing there in the shade talking with the man with the grey mustache. I looked straight at him with disgust and pulled onto Formosa. I immediately turned on my left turn signal and turned onto Fairbanks as the light was green and the way was clear.

Between driving home and the few hours right after the event my emotional state was destroyed. I almost forgot to get gas as I was running on fumes. I could have easily gotten into an accident because my full concentration was not on driving.

Update 11/29/2011 12:00am

A few days ago I wrote a long message to the customer service of 4R and I received a response yesterday asking me to contact the Operations Manager. I’ll give him a call later in the week.

Update 12/2/2011

I spoke with Jeff Palermo, the Operating Partner of 4R, and we talked about the parking situation and the moonlighting police presence. I was really glad that the manager gave me his time and actually listened to me. I explained my grievances and opinions. He was extremely professional and stated that he would look into possibilities for changes to ease the issues that I raised.

Update 2/16/2012

Today was my hearing at the Orange County Courthouse. I was extremely nervous and my stomach was doing somersaults. I arrived a bit early because I wanted to see what the procedure was before I plead my case. I also wanted to see if DFC Van Kirk would show up and fight the ticket. When the bailiff opened the courtroom and all of the law enforcement officers piled in I recognized the officer that gave me my ticket. The bailiff led us in and then we watched a video on the procedures of the traffic hearings. I then sat patiently until it was my turn to go to the podium. When I was called up I made my way up and went through the the procedures, saying my name, answering the questions from the magistrate, etc. DFC Van Kirk was standing next to me and he was asked by the magistrate to explain why I got a ticket. I was then given a chance to ask questions to DFC Van Kirk. At least one of those questions he lied about. Afterwards I was given a chance to plead my case and the magistrate interrupted me and asked some questions of myself and DFC Van Kirk. He then asked if I had anything else to ask or say which I didn’t. He then found that the proof was there but he withheld adjudication. This means that it won’t count against my driving record but I still have to pay for it. I was seated again in order to wait for my paperwork. After receiving my paperwork I exited the room and paid my fine and court costs. DFC Van Kirk had run out of the room as soon as he could.

After leaving the courthouse I decided to revisit the scene of the “crime” to see if my memory of the place and the events were as good as I thought. I was pretty close. I have some more thoughts on this topic but I’ll post an update in the future.

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Car service department pisses me off!

Today I had to bring my Toyota FJ Cruiser in for service. This is the standard 5k mile service which includes oil change and tire rotation with inspection of the rest of the vehicle. When I called to schedule the appointment I asked if there was anything special that needed to be serviced and the answer was negative. When I arrived, the service agent tried to sell me the “dealer recommended extra services”. This not the first time that this company has done this to me and frankly it’s pissing me off.
I’m going to talk, as calmly as I can, with my service agent to see if I can make him understand my frustration.
I know that this should be a little thing but it really angers me. I’ll provide an update after the service is complete. Anyway, share your own stories in the comments.

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Smoking in the 21st Century

So here we are in the year 2010. I’m 33 years old and since at least the time I was in middle school I was educated about the health risks of smoking. So for more than twenty years people have been saying smoking will kill you and yet I see young people (in their twenties or younger) smoking. Hell there have been labels on the packs themselves saying exactly how dangerous they are to a person’s health. How is it possible that anyone born in the last 30 years would try smoking let alone try it enough times to develop a habit? At least in the past twenty or so years Florida laws have made it illegal for almost all indoor smoking and my lungs thank the people involved in that legislature. Also in the last twenty years the class action lawsuits in Florida against the tobacco companies have concluded with a win for the good guys. But that only helps those who don’t smoke. I am not suggesting that smoking be illegal as we all know prohibition doesn’t work and just causes more problems. But how do we get society to make smoking so undesirable that no one joins the habit. Based on the CDC’s fast stats, 21% of adults smoke and 20% of high school students.
I wish I had the answer. I saw a news story a month or so ago where NYC had raised the taxes on cigarettes and therefore the total price of a pack of cigarettes. They interviewed some people on the street and some of these people said that this would push them into quitting. Frankly, I don’t think a tax is going to conquer their addiction but I wish them the best of luck. I also hope NYC makes a ton of money off of those taxes and puts it to good use in educating people not to start smoking.
Of course education is not the answer either. Like I stated above I had been educated about the dangers of smoking since I was about eleven or twelve. I assume children are getting these admonitions from even earlier ages. So again I ask how is it possible young people start smoking? I guess the anti-smoking propaganda worked for me as I never started smoking.
Is it the “cool” factor? There are laws that disallow smoking advertisements on the TV or in most magazines Also you almost never see it in popular media as something that is “cool” or associated with a “cool” personality or role model (although they all probably smoke).

So this is a request for some valid explanation. I would really like to have a good discussion around this.

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