Thursday, September 06, 2018

COLUMN: Court Pt. 2

Tonight on Dateline:

He seemed like a nice, ordinary newspaper columnist. The kind of guy who filled his days writing about harmless things like cats and TV. So what could have caused this mild-mannered everyman to snap, get behind the wheel of his car, and take down an innocent bicyclist? Was it an unavoidable accident? Or was it MURDER?

Spoiler: It wasn't murder.

If you read last week's column, you've already heard the story. Last October, I was pulling out of my alley on the way to work when I got into a fender bender with a cyclist who came zipping down the sidewalk into the blind intersection. I was just letting off the brake from a dead stop and barely moving, so thankfully no one was hurt except my driving record and the guy's poor bike, which the front of my car rearranged like a Dali painting.

It was one of the more traumatic and embarassing moments in my life, and I can only be grateful that nobody got hurt. For my part in the incident, the police awarded me with a special honor called a "failure to yield" citation that turned out to be a little less prestigious than I was hoping for.

I certainly don't make a habit of it, but I've been on the receiving end of a few traffic tickets over the years. Nothing big, but I racked up as couple of speeding tickets when I was in college and a seat belt violation one stupid day. And every time, I've freely owned up to it. I was at fault, I deserved the ticket, and I duly paid them.

But THIS time, I didn't feel quite so liable. It truly is a blind intersection, and I don't think any driver at the same spot at the same time would have been able to avoid hitting the bike. Half on principle and half because I thought it might make for an interesting newspaper column, I decided to fight my failure to yield ticket and have my day in court.

I spent one entire day incredibly satisfied by this decision, and then the next two months regretting it. Did I need an attorney? Just meeting with one would probably cost more than this silly ticket. Could I possibly defend myself? Wouldn't I just flop-sweat and stammer like usual? What was my defense going to be? "There was this bush, see..."? This was a dumb idea.

But when the day of my court appearance finally rolled around, I wasn't scared or stressed. That's because I was too busy vomiting. My January court date timed perfectly with the worst case of flu I'd ever had in years. But somehow, I managed to crawl out of bed, put on some nice clothes, and drag my drugged-out self to the courthouse on a wing, a prayer, and a whole lot of Dayquil.

At the courthouse, I was greeted by a kindly guard who told me I had to take off my belt before passing through the metal detector, which explains how my flu-addled brain came thiiiis close to accidentally dropping trou in front of some of our community's finest legal minds. The guard gets my ultimate respect, because he was the only one who went, "Excuse me, sir? Before you see the judge, you might want to zip up your pants." Good advice. Thankfully, the officer who cited me was a no-show and my date with the judge got pushed back two more months.

This was ample time for me to become a legal eagle. I'm somewhat of an expert in the modern legal system, because I have seen at least 100 episodes of "Law & Order." So in my down time before the judge, I prepped. I went to the intersection with a camera and took CSI pics of the obscuring hedge row. I hopped online and researched statutes. I watched even more "Law & Order."

Two weeks ago, it was my moment to shine. When they called my name, I would stride confidently before the judge, present my evidence, provide my multi-point argument with the grace and finesse of Jack McCoy, and leave court a free man, vindicated of my crime. As I awaited my turn, I composed my victory speech for the throng of reporters that surely must have been outside. My fantasy was soon interrupted by the assistant city attorney. Here's how it went down:

"Mr. Brown? Care to come up? Your honor, my officer isn't here. The victim isn't here. Move to dismiss."
"Sound good to you, Mr. Brown?"
"Err... yes?"
"Dismissed. Next."

It was the fastest "Law & Order" episode ever. The judge didn't even bang a gavel, not even once. My epic courtroom drama played out in roughly forty-five seconds. I was incredibly relieved -- except for the teeny tiny part of me that was silently disappointed. I didn't get to show my fancy pictures of the crime scene. Nobody had to press any "FREE SHANE" t-shirts. I didn't even get to stand up and yell, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!"

As much as I want to experience a shining star moment in court, it's probably not worth doling out any more love taps to passing cyclists. Probably. If you see my car coming, you might want to give it a wide berth just in case.

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