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Oakland drivers, licenses just revoked, hit sting

on November 17, 2008


Nov. 17–A bad day got worse this afternoon for drivers who decided to get back behind the wheel after their driver’s licenses were suspended this afternoon at the Alameda County Superior Court:  the Oakland Police Department had a sting waiting for them. 

After those on the docket surrendered their licenses to the court, undercover officers in the courtroom relayed their descriptions to motorcycle officers outside.  Those officers watched them to see if they called for a ride, took the bus—or returned to their cars.

“Every time, we get 50 percent of people on the docket try to drive away,” said Officer Jeff Thomason, OPD spokesperson.

This sting, the fifth since last year, was funded by a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety.  Of the 18 people scheduled to have their licenses suspended in court today, only 12 showed up.  “Out of the 12,” said Thomason, “we got six.  Three for sure got on a bus or BART, and the other three we lost.”

One of those six stung by the sting was Oakland resident Wilbert Ballard.  Ballard, who appeared today in traffic court because he had been cited previously for driving without a license, was pulled over by Officer Robert Sayaphupha at the corner of 7th and Webster, three blocks from the courthouse.

Ballard, his fiancée Tracy Williams, and her young son sat in the green Chrysler sedan as Officer Sayaphupha filled out his report.

“I know I’m not supposed to be driving, but I have to do what I have to do,” said Ballard.  “I’m going to go home and park this thing until I get my license—what am I supposed to do?”

Ballard said he was driving to Oak Street to pay his previous fine.  Despite the presence of TV cameras and reporters and the prospect of another citation and fine, Ballard seemed to be in good spirits, admitting that he was not surprised to be pulled over.

After going over the paperwork with Ballard and issuing citations for both driving with a suspended license and driving without insurance, Sayaphupha had more bad news.  “Unfortunately,” he said, “your car’s going to be towed.”

“Oh, come on, man,” exclaimed Ballard, “I’ve been patient with you!”

“It’s mandatory that we tow the car,” said Sayaphupha.  “The judge told you not to drive.”

Ballard, his cool evaporating, began gathering CDs and clothes from the car.  “Get all the change out of the glove compartment,” he told Williams. “They’re going to tow the damn car.”

Thomason said the sting is meant as a deterrent.  “Time and time again,” he said, “people who have had their licenses revoked by a judge will get in their cars again and try to drive.”

Thomason said the main reason drivers flee in hit-and-runs—30 percent of Oakland’s 14,000 annual traffic accidents—is that they are driving without a license.  And while the percentage of hit-and-runs has dropped, from 40 percent five or six years ago, Thomason said he hopes those numbers can be lowered even further.  At a DUI checkpoint on International Boulevard last Friday night, OPD made three DUI arrests—but towed 44 vehicles that were being driven without a license.  Today’s sting was another component of those efforts.

“We want to remind people that when a judge says you don’t have a license anymore, that your license is suspended, you should take that to heart,” he said.

As Williams and her son stood against the wall of the Gourmet Delight Seafood Restaurant, Ballard emptied his car of valued possessions, piling them on the sidewalk—work boots, an oil lantern, an antique phone, two hammers, and a fishing rod.

When the tow truck arrived, Ballard was on his cell phone.  “I just come out of court, they’re just now telling me I can’t drive—I can’t get home,” said Ballard.  “They tell you to come up and straighten it out, and then they take your shit.”

Thomason said  cars towed by order of the City of Oakland could be held up to 30 days, with fees approaching $100 per day.

“We’ll get it straightened out,” said Williams, as she watched the car being hitched to the tow truck.  “It’s just going to take a couple of paychecks.”


Ballard, as his car is towed.

Ballard, as his car is towed.||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

1 Comment

  1. Kent on January 9, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    The “mandatory towing” is ridiculous. I think the city of Oakland is in cahoots with the tow operator. I just had my car towed from North oakland for expired plate stickers. The cop first wrote a citation and then decided (he didn’t have to do it) that my car should be towed. The tow operator charges you $170 for the tow and $60 per day, the first day being as soon as your car enters their lot.

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