Tickets dismissed for Barron

Published 10:41 pm Tuesday, October 14, 2008

MONTGOMERY – An influential state senator was cleared Tuesday of reckless driving and running a stop sign in south Alabama after it was revealed that a former officer had issued the traffic tickets.

State Sen. Lowell Barron’s attorney and the Covington County district attorney agreed to dismiss Barron’s two tickets upon his payment of $288 in court costs. A judge approved the agreement a few hours before Barron was scheduled to go to trial.

“I feel pretty good,” Barron, D-Fyffe, said.

Barron’s attorney, Walt Merrell, had questioned whether the tickets were legally issued because they were signed by a former Andalusia police officer. Andalusia Police Chief Wilbur Williams had intended to keep the officer on the payroll for part-time work, but acknowledged he had not completed the proper paperwork.

“I believe that once our legal officials looked at the facts, they realized that the case had no merit and should be dismissed,” Merrell said.

The former officer, Blaine Wilson, said he thought he was still active with the department, and he still had his badge, weapon and identification so he could work part-time when needed.

District Attorney Greg Gambril said the dismissal was appropriate.

“While the state feels that the senator’s conduct was irresponsible in these cases, the state is also bound by the law,” he said.

Barron said Wilson was the one who acted irresponsibly. “They should prosecute him for impersonating an officer,” Barron said Tuesday.

Barron is a seven-term senator who leads the Senate Rules Committee. He helps determine the bills the Senate will consider each day, and in that role, he can help kill a bill by never recommending it for the Senate’s agenda.

Barron received the tickets July 27 while traveling home alone from Destin, Fla. After getting the citations, Barron acknowledged he was speeding, but said he did it because he was concerned about his safety.

He said he passed a motorcycle, which was being driven by Wilson, while traveling on a rural road at night near Baker, Fla., a town close to the Alabama line.

Barron said the motorcycle then got close to his bumper, followed him for 30 miles at increasing speeds and flashed his bright lights.

“He just would not stop chasing me at a dangerously close distance on a dark, desolate road,” Barron said.

Wilson pulled over near Andalusia and phoned police, who stopped Barron when he reached town.

Wilson’s version differs from Barron’s. He said Barron tried to pass him and several other vehicles on the rural road while another car was approaching. He said Barron had to pull back into traffic, missing his motorcycle by two or three feet.

“This guy was driving like a maniac,” Wilson said.

Wilson said his law enforcement training kicked in and he followed Barron’s Lexus, getting close enough to see his tag number. He said Barron drove at speeds of up to 105 mph and ran a stop sign before Wilson pulled off to notify police. He said he had no idea at that point who was in the car.

Wilson is a former sheriff’s deputy who ran as a Republican candidate for sheriff in 2006. He left the police department in December 2007 to purchase WAAO radio station in Andalusia.

The Andalusia police chief said other officers on the scene did not sign the tickets because they had not witnessed Barron’s driving on the rural road approaching Andalusia.

In 1996, Barron got the Legislature to pass a law that banned police in towns with fewer than 19,000 people from ticketing speeders on interstate highways. At the time, Barron had been clocked, but not ticketed, by Clanton and Argo police for driving more than 90 mph while commuting on interstate highways between his northeast Alabama district and the capital.