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Sellwood traffic ticket presents moral dilemma

The names have been changed to protect the innocent


When Traffic Officer Cash, who looks for all the world like a large, formidable robot, clocks a perky, tan Audi at 51 mph, he makes a mistake. He thinks it is me in my old, pearl white Volvo who, at 25 mph, is taking the opportunity to observe the extraordinary feat of moving the Sellwood Bridge.

Rising from the highway’s dip under the bridge, we observe Officer Cash in one of the driveways leading to the old Staff Jennings store where my daddy got his Crist Craft boat in 1940.

The officer is finishing up a conversation with someone who is walking away from the conspicuous, shiny white motorcycle upon which Officer Cash sits while he looks for traffic misbehavior.

As I inch farther down Macadam Avenue, looking for the next speed sign, assuming it will be 35 mph, which it has been my whole lifetime, I am stunned by flashing lights in the rear view mirror, the perky Audi long gone ahead of me. It takes a while to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. Officer Cash’s lights are flashing at me.

I stop immediately. Traffic is behind us, so he waves me into an awkward, perhaps dangerous driveway being used by hungry business people on their way to lunch — honking. None of this seems to phase Officer Cash, who is all police business dealing with me, an apparent offender.

I try talking, explaining, reasoning, being friendly. Officer Cash briskly demands my identity and leaves me, alone here, cars honking. Curious about my blood pressure, heart rate and can’t remember the last time I got in trouble with the law — there may have never been a last time.

After waiting and fretting for a very long time, I am given, through the passenger side window, a traffic ticket for $535, or a court appearance, which belongs to the perky tan Audi that got away. I chose the court appearance.

Almost three months later, after a series of miscommunicated trips to the Multnomah County Courthouse, I join about 40 other offenders in courtroom 105, a few with a supportive partner, most of us alone, and only one completely naive — that would be me. After a hefty wait on a hard seat, a flock of officers fly into the courtroom animated, conversational, comfortable, big and intimidating, all heading for the jury box to sit together. More than once over the next half hour they look at us offenders in a nudge, nudge, wink, wink manner as if we may be a joke.

We are now given the opportunity to “talk to our officer,” but there isn’t one who looks like a robot there, so I don’t know who my officer is, and, as I recall, he doesn’t talk. He is pointed out to me.

So I follow the masses, find him quite handsome and say, “Officer Cash, this was a mistake, you clocked the person ahead of me in the tan Audi. I am not guilty.” Officer Cash says something like, “I do not make mistakes. You will have to talk to the judge.” So I go back to my seat.

After about an hour listening to the other offenders say, “I’m guilty” and seeing them walk away with reduced tickets, smiling, I almost get it! I motion Officer Cash, and he motions back to step out in the hallway where I say, “Officer Cash, I am not guilty and therefore, do not think I should say, ‘I am guilty.’”

He says, “Well, let’s see here,” then looks at the papers in his hands. He mumbles things I don’t understand and says he could reduce the fee to a smaller number. I say, “But, Officer Cash I can’t do that because I am not guilty.” Then he looked as his papers again and, again reduces the fee and I say something like, “What should I do with my integrity, my principles and my ethics? I am not guilty.” And he says, “You can plead no contest.”

At this point, relieved by the idea of closure to three months of angst and high blood pressure, I accept his offer, comforted by Officer Cash’s accommodation, gentle nature, kindness, humor and good looks. I’m not guilty, It’s just “no contest,” whatever that means, and I consider the modest fee a modest contribution in appreciation of a new bridge from which my pearl white Volvo and I are less likely to plunge into the Willamette River.

Norma Heyser is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.



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