Above the Law

It was a scene right out of a novel. The bad guy rode off in a cloud of dust. The sheriff gave chase… and caught his man.

Only, in this case, the sheriff was Portsmouth, Virginia, Sheriff Bill Watson. The outlaw was none other than Portsmouth’s Mayor Kenny Wright.

It started out quietly enough. Watson saw a parked car with a sticker that had expired in June. At first, he didn’t realize it belonged to Mayor Wright. But when he came over to get a closer look, something in the car tipped off the sheriff that the owner was the mayor.

He waited for Wright to come back to his car after a City Council meeting.

At first, Watson didn’t say anything. He waited for Wright to get in the car and start it up. Then he would be in violation. Sure enough, Wright started up the car. “That’s when I turned on the lights … and I stepped out and said, ‘Hold it right there, mayor.’”

The mayor just looked at Watson and kept right on going. Watson said to himself, “OK, this is the way it’s going to be.” Then the chase began. He got into his car and he took off after the mayor.

It wasn’t much of a chase. Watson caught up with Wright half a block away, at a traffic circle. The chase did turn out to be action-packed, though. The sheriff asked the mayor to roll down his window, but the light turned green and the mayor took off again.

That’s when the sheriff called in the cavalry. Or something like it.

Watson called for assistance from Portsmouth police. Eventually, Wright stopped, was asked for his license and registration, and was cited for the expired sticker.

But it didn’t end there. The ticket for the expired sticker would have been a $30 fine. But because the mayor ignored the sheriff’s orders and rode off, Watson researched state code and obtained a warrant for a felony charge against Wright for eluding him.

The moral of the story is, as the sheriff said, even the mayor has to learn “that no one is above the law.”

In a similar, though less spine-tingling, incident, a United States senator was taught the same lesson. Not just any senator, but the esteemed senior lawmaker from New York — Senator Jacob Javits.

It was 1967. One morning, NYPD patrol officer Vincent Sento was making his rounds on East 35th Street in Manhattan. He saw a car parked on the wrong side of the street, in violation of alternate-side-of-the-street parking rules.

Officer Santo looked at the license plate. It said US Senate 11. That car belonged to Senator Jacob Javits. The “normal” thing to do would have been to shrug, smile and walk on.

But officer Santo took out his book and put a ticket on the senator’s car.

That would have just been a $25 fine. But the senator had the misfortune to have parked in a tow-away zone. With the ticket on the window loudly announcing “TOW ME,” the senator’s car got a ride to the city pound at Pier 96, along the Hudson River.

Three hours later, the senator’s secretary tracked down the car, went to the city pound, paid the parking fine and the additional tow charge.

Someone at police headquarters gave a familiar-sounding statement: “What’s good enough for our citizens is good enough for our senators.”

Thirty years later, it happened again. Only this time it was in Yerushalayim. And it wasn’t a parking violation or expired sticker.

No less than the commissioner of the Israeli Police, Insp.-Gen. Assaf Hefetz, was embarrassed into fining himself NIS 750 after he was seen driving while speaking on a mobile phone. This was shortly after Israel enacted a new law banning phone use while driving.

There was a reason for the law. Traffic-related deaths and injuries in Israel have cost us more lives than casualties in all Israeli wars and terrorist attacks combined.

And it’s not just in Eretz Yisrael. Walk out on the street in any of our communities and you’ll see cars racing through red lights — and people driving while speaking on cellphones or texting.

That is to say nothing of double and triple parking that makes even safe drivers and pedestrians have to risk their lives to get anywhere.

And let’s not forget the parents who mindlessly cross the street wheeling baby carriages against a red light!

Dayan Yitzchak Weiss, zt”l, wrote in a teshuvah in Minchas Yitzchak that someone who drives unsafely has a din of a rodef.

We are not above the law. And we are certainly not above the laws of nature. We have enough redifos from outside forces. As the winter weather closes in on us, let’s keep safe … and not skid into helping our enemies.