James A. Holechek Sr. may be Baltimore's patron saint of procrastinating motorists.
The veteran public relations man, backing up his widely reported offer, has so far paid the fines of nine of the 32 car owners nabbed for expired tags at the Mondawmin Motor Vehicle Administration office on July 1.
"It makes you feel good, and that's the bottom line," he said.
Police officials said two foot patrol officers assigned to the mall have learned to be on the lookout the first of each month for cars with tags that expired the day before. The rush is apparently caused by tardy drivers anxious to renew their tags.
This lie-in-wait ticketing strategy outraged a number of folks, including Mr. Holechek. He called it "sneaky," and offered to pay all the $17 tickets written at Mondawmin that day. Police said 19 were writtenfor cars in front of the MVA and 13 elsewhere in the mall parking lot.
The gesture so far has cost Mr. Holechek $153. It has also reaped lots of publicity, an invitation to lunch and some heartfelt thanks.
"It is very kind of you for taking care of this ticket for me," wrote one Baltimore woman, enclosing her son's ticket. "If everyone was like you, this would be a better place. Thank you very, very much."
Cecilia A. Hughes, a city Health Department worker, said this week that Mr. Holechek had helped her forget the pain of July 1.
Mrs. Hughes said she mailed a check and tag renewal forms to the MVA in early June. But she did not receive her paperwork -- or her new "Treasure the Chesapeake" tags -- by July 1. So she drove to Mondawmin, assuming the police would leave her alone because she was obviously there to renew.
After spending more than 2 1/2 hours in line, she said, she came out to find the $17 ticket. "It was a horrible day," she said.
Several people who hadn't been ticketed were impressed enough by Mr. Holechek's generosity to send him letters.
"NICE GESTURE!" a Towson man wrote.
A Randallstown woman sent a two-page note that concluded: "I just wanted to tell you I think you're a wonderful, kind person. If you ever get some free time, perhaps we could get together and I would take you to lunch."
There was one Scrooge, however.
"People no longer feel any sense of responsibility or any compulsion to obey the law," a Timonium man wrote to Mr. Holechek. "The people who drove to Mondawmin on expired tags are just this sort of lazy, lackadaisical lawbreaker. The police fined those who were driving illegally, which I really feel is their job."