Police are cracking down on violations, but Smith Island says it won't squeal

September 29, 1991|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,Sun Staff Correspondent

EWELL -- It's been about a month now since someone slashed all four tires on the Ford Bronco that state police kept parked by the Methodist Church here; a little less since troopers began writing tickets for traffic violations Smith Island residents say used to be ignored.

And the islanders are steamed.

"It's no need of holding the whole island guilty for what two or three people did," complained Roland Bradshaw, a waterman who lives on Rhodes Point, in the center of this marshy archipelago in the Chesapeake Bay.

"They're trying to put the pinch on us so that somebody'll squeal on who done it," groused Harry Kitching of Ewell. "And nobody has no idea. It might not be somebody on the island."

Lt. Larry Taylor, commander of the state police detachment at Princess Anne, insists he has no intention of harassing the islanders, who for years have driven unregistered and uninsured cars with impunity on the narrow asphalt lanes that pass for roads here -- all 2.2 miles of them. But "our presence has been increased because of what happened to our vehicle, and if we see violations, we are bound to take enforcement action."

Donnie Marsh, who was unloading groceries from a pickup truck at his uncle's store, scoffed at that.

"They used to come over here every once in a while, and 99 times out of 100, they'd give you a warning," he said. "Now, 99 times out of 100, you get a ticket."

Earl Sneade, who works on a fuel boat, faces some $265 in fines for several violations, including driving an unregistered, uninspected, uninsured vehicle. He says he's going to court and that his lawyer has told him not to talk about the case.

"I've got nothing to say about the state police," he insisted in a telephone interview.

Charlie Evans, Mr. Marsh's uncle, got a ticket for drifting through a stop sign in his registered pickup truck. "It was a faded old thing," he said of the sign. "Milk white. I've been living here for 48 years, and I had a clear view, so I just eased through. It cost me $40."

Other islanders talk about friends and relatives who've been hit with tickets for $150 and $165.

"It's wrong what they done to the police vehicle, but it's wrong what they're doing to us, too," Mr. Kitching argued.

Traffic violations had been rare on the island -- a 40-minute boat ride from Crisfield -- and many of the 500 or so residents prefer bicycles and golf carts to cars.

State police say it all started Aug. 24 when they got a report that the Bronco's tires had been slashed.

"It had stayed out there unscathed for years," Lieutenant Taylor said. "We use it when we go on police patrols. And several years back, there was a nurse on the island who used it to visit patients."

Police went to the island to investigate and issued several traffic tickets. A few days later, a mechanic replaced all four tires.

The next Saturday, police got another call. The new tires had been slashed and someone had taken a can of red spray paint to the Bronco, writing "pig" on the hood and doors.

Police returned to the island and while there issued more traffic tickets, made at least one drug arrest and cited several youths for under-age drinking, angering the islanders even more.

"They snuck over here one Friday night about 10:30 or so and got a boy for driving with no license tag," growled Mr. Marsh. "They found some kind of drug on him and carried him off in handcuffs. There's no need of that."

State police said they stopped a 1975 Buick about 10:50 p.m. Sept. 13 because it didn't have a license tag. While searching the car, they found a clear, plastic bag allegedly containing marijuana and the remains of a marijuana cigarette in the ash tray.

They charged Jerry R. Smith, 26, with possession of marijuana and driving an unregistered, uninsured vehicle without a license. He was released on his own recognizance that night.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Taylor will not say whether he has any suspects in the vandalism of the Bronco but concedes police have "developed some information."

Most island residents say they're stumped, but others hint they know who did it.

"I got a pretty good idea, but I'm not going to ask them and they wouldn't tell me," said Paul Parks, who lives near Mr. Evans' store.

Others hope that things will calm down and stay that way.

"I'm just sick of the whole damn mess," fumed Mr. Evans, who putts around the island on an unregistered motor scooter.

"Nobody cares if we live or die over here. Nobody bothers nothing. There's no crime out here."

His complaints are part of a familiar litany.

Smith Islanders receive few services from state and local governments, the residents argue. The roads are terrible and police protection is almost non-existent.

Moreover, they can take care of what little crime occurs themselves, they say.

"They come over here when they feel like it," Mr. Parks said.

"And there's no point in it. Anybody gets out of hand, there'll be 25 large men on his tail."

The police are wasting their time on this tiny island, residents complain.

"One thing about this island, it's not New York, and we don't need this kinda stuff," explained Lorenzo "Rooster" Somers.

"They ought to spend that money somewhere on the mainland, catching some dopers."

Instead, Smith Islanders contend, the police are persecuting them because of the vandalized Bronco.

"If one person did it, why are they down on 500 people?" asked Wellington Kitching.

"Some of them said the whole island's going to pay for it."

Lieutenant Taylor denied that police were seeking revenge.

"That's certainly not our intention," he said.

"But our presence has been increased because of the damage to our vehicle. And we have made some additional traffic citations and a drug arrest. We had to make some form of an announcement that we were there."

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