Monday, March 23, 2009

Almost locked up in Barbados Pt. 4

By Kal-F

I drove off thinking that maybe the officer had had a change of heart about reporting me and probably would forget the whole incident. In the ensuing weeks and months, I worried about the incident from time to time, wondering whether or not I would receive a summons and how much my fine would be and whether there was a risk of being sent to jail for a few days as an example, since the recently appointed Commissioner Of Police wanted to send a message about indiscipline on the roads.

2007 came to a close but there was no summons. The incident faded from my mind as I had convinced myself that the officer had indeed not bothered to report it.

'What a considerate man!' I later told myself. 'All policemen should be like him. If I see him again I'll ask him if he likes mangoes.'

When 2008 arrived, I had all but put the incident out of my mind. I left and returned to the island several times and then just as the year was Usain Bolting to the finish line, the driver of a car with the inscribed words "Office of the Registrar" pulled into my driveway.

When I identified myself, he handed me a summons stating that I had to appear in traffic court on January 28, 2009 to answer the charge of failing to stop at a red light.

My heart took a big leap, and then several more. I mentioned to the summons -deliverer my surprise at the summons, seeing that the incident in question had taken place almost two years before and that the police officer had suggested that he might let the matter drop, and in reality I was not planning to be in Barbados in January but would most likely be back in Canada at that time.

He looked at me as if my last statement made him suspect that I was an imbecile ("Are you kidding me that you plan to be in Canada at the end of January? Have you ever heard of winter?") and he then patiently explained that if the date was inconvenient, I could go to the court early one morning and try to see if they would deal with the matter.

"Do you have a lawyer?" he then asked.

When I replied "No," he said, "Well, you might want to dress up when you go." And with that he waved goodbye as if saying that he had other imbeciles to deliver summonses to.

Over the next two months I hardly thought of anything else. There were news reports of the police cracking down on motorists: stopping and checking them for faulty parking lights, taking Public Service vehicles off the roads for the smallest infractions. Rumours abounded of people being sent to jail for traffic violations.

In early December I went on a wonderful cruise across the Caribbean and later had a wonderful Christmas but I still could not entirely put the worry out of my mind about my looming court case.

I had no idea want to expect. What would be my punishment? How much would I be fined - 200 dollars, 500, 1000? The summons did not state what the fine would be if I was proven guilty. I also had no way of telling if I would have to pay the imposed fine on the same day of the trial or what manner of payment would be deemed acceptable by the court. There was no phone number on the summons that would allow me to get that information ahead of time.

I started talking to others about the situation. Though sympathetic, none of them lessened my growing panic. My cousin argued that the officer was unethical: "He shouldn't have been hiding behind that wall, and if I had to go to court I would say that to the magistrate. It's the job of a police officer to prevent crime, not just to apprehend criminals. Man, if I were you, I wouldn't care about the weather, I would go back to Canada." His words were encouraging but I noticed that he had inadvertently suggested that I was a criminal.

My sister tried to put me at ease by stating that for sure I wouldn't have to sell my house to raise funds to pay the fine. A good friend's daughter who is currently studying law said that she didn't think I would be sent to jail just for going through a red light and then added, "at least not for a long time."

I thought that I should prepare myself for the case by taking a crash course in traffic law. I searched the Net to find an on-line university where I could become a qualifed lawyer in a month or less. All for naught. The on-line universities wanted tens of thousands of dollars for their short-cut degrees. I got sick shortly after Christmas and therefore did not follow the advice of the summons-deliverer to go to the court earlier and beg for mercy, and then to top it all off, mangoes were out of season.

So in fear and trembling I awaited the arrival of Jan. 28, 2009.

More tomorrow....

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