It was way past midnight on a wintry Saturday night in 1975. It had just started to snow and through my windshield, the falling flakes looked like that scene in Star Wars when the Millennium Falcon blasts into light speed. Everything was blanketed in white, but there were still two well-worn tire paths where the road was still visible.
The speed limit on Busha Highway in Marysville is 55 miles-per-hour, but since the roads were slick, I dropped my speed to 45. As I rounded the bend by the refinery, I passed an oncoming car. In my rear-view mirror, I noticed that the car made a U-turn and was quickly gaining on me. I fully expected this fool to pass me, but instead red-and-blue flashing lights pierced my back window. I was being pulled over, but I had no idea why I was being pulled over.
A friendly Marysville Police Officer told me why he had pulled me over: my speed was too fast for road conditions and he suggested that I slow down. Now, I might have gotten off with a warning at that point, but I couldn’t leave well-enough alone.
First, I pointed out that I was was driving 10 miles-per-hour under the speed limit, and second, not only had he passed me in the opposite direction, but he turned around and caught up to me within one mile. So—being the smart ass that I am—I asked him if he was driving too fast for road conditions too? And that’s when his attitude changed.
He wrote me a speeding ticket and advised me to slow down. Dripping with sarcasm, I said “Thank you, officer.”
I pissed and moaned to anyone who would listen to my sad tale of injustice and everyone gave me the same advice, “Go to court.” Damn straight. Hell yeah. I signed the ticket, checked the box marked ‘not guilty,’ and—since I worked in the same building—I hand delivered it to the County Court Office. They scheduled my court date. My case would go to trial in 30 days at 9:00 a.m. in front of Judge Hamm.
“Damn straight” and “Hell yeah” quickly turned into “What the hell have I done?”
The morning of my trial was another snow storm; how appropriate. And it wasn’t just a snow storm, it was a blizzard with drifting snow. Schools were closed and driving was treacherous. I wasn’t really sure if the County Court would even be open in such severe weather.
It was a good thing I showed up because Judge Hamm showed up, and so did the Marysville Police Officer. We both stood up when he entered the court. I was the only defendant in the court room, but before my case was called, he read the names of every other person who was scheduled to show up that morning and ruled their cases as guilty since they neglected to appear before the court.
Next thing I heard was, “The court calls case number blah, blah, blah, the City of Marysville versus Eugene Renaker.”
Judge Hamm instructed me to take a seat at the front table to his right. I gathered all of my evidence, including: a month-old weather report from the daily WHLS news bulletin, a large road map of the incident and a photograph of the snow-covered road that I had shot the morning after I received my ticket. I came loaded for bear, but I would never get a chance to show any of my dazzling articles of defense. I took a seat in my suit and tie.
The officer was sworn in and asked by a prosecutor to explain what happened. The officer made it sound all very legal, “At 1:12 a.m. while traveling south on Busha Highway, I encountered a vehicle that was traveling at a speed that I deemed to be too fast for road conditions because it was snowing. I turned around and pursued the vehicle. At Michigan Road I pulled the driver over.”
The prosecutor asked, “How hard was it snowing?”
The officer pointed to the blizzard just outside the window and said, “Just like it is right now.”
Judge Hamm reacted to the blinding blizzard that blew past the window in horizontal gusts, “Good Lord.”
I jumped to my feet and yelled, “Objection your Honor! Isn’t that just a little too coincidental?”
Everything stopped. Time stood still. Everyone was looking at me; the bailiff, the Marysville Police Officer, the prosecutor, and even the stenographer. Last, but certainly not least, Judge Hamm was staring at me.
I thought I was going to be charged with contempt. It was as if some crazy 19-year-old understudy had taken over my body and shouted out lines that weren’t even in the play. I just stood there with my hand still in the air.
The Judge gently waved me back into my chair and said, “Sit down, Perry Mason.”
In the end, I didn’t even have to take the stand. I think Judge Hamm envisioned more theatrics on my part and quickly dismissed the case if I agreed to pay court costs of $35.
“What?!” I remember thinking, “Why should I have to pay anything? This is bullshit” However, logic prevailed and I cooled my jets as Judge Hamm explained that also meant no points or ticket on my record.
Dripping with appreciation, I said, “Thank you, your Honor.”