POLKTON — One woman detained for multiple violations during a Friday night checkpoint said it added hours to her trip, but she was glad officers were doing their jobs.
Tameka Austin, of Gaffney, South Carolina, was on her way from taking her 3-month-old granddaughter to see her grandfather, who is in prison, for the first time when she was stopped. After smelling marijuana in her vehicle, officers had her pull off to the side.
Austin had less than a gram of marijuana with her. Officers also found that she was driving with a suspended license and that the baby’s car seat was incorrectly installed in the front seat. Volunteers with the Anson County Partnership for Children played with the baby as Austin spoke with officers, then showed her the correct way to buckle the baby in and install the seat.
“I was told the baby had to be in the back, but I can’t feed her her bottle back there,” Austin said, adding she was unsure of how to buckle her grandchild in and was glad for the instruction. She also said she was unaware that her license had been suspended.
Before the checkpoint, Austin had anticipated being home at 10:45 p.m. Since she couldn’t drive with her suspended license, she had to wait for a ride to arrive. At the end of the checkpoint, her ride was still on the way, and she anticipated getting home closer to 4 a.m. With the heat and a teething infant as her traveling companion, the conditions weren’t ideal.
“It’s miserable,” she said. “It’s really, really miserable.”
However, Austin didn’t bear any ill will towards the officers or Partnership staff.
“(The car seat check) was wonderful,” Austin said. “I give them an A-plus for that, especially for giving out car seats.”
Waiting in the dark along the road for a ride could be a scary experience, but Austin said she felt secure.
“I feel safe and comfortable,” she said. “In fact, I just told my youngest son a while ago that we’re alright, me and her, with a lot of police officers. No one’s messing with us.”
She wasn’t even mad about the citations.
“I think it was fair,” she said. “I think I got off light and they was real fair. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think (Chief Matthew Norris) was real lenient. I thank God for him.”
Officers with several state, county and municipal departments about 50 citations, including 19 for driving without a license and nine for driving while the motorist’s license was revoked. The checkpoint ran from about 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Two wanted individuals — one of who was wanted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — were arrested at the stop; four motorists were cited for expired registrations, one citation was issued for driving while impaired, one for possessing an open container of alcohol and six were given for unspecified violations.
There were also two citations given for child restraint law violations
Caroline Goins, director of the Partnership, said that the organization checked about 20 seats and replaced nine of them, giving away free seats to those who needed them.
“The main problem at the checkpoint was improper installation,” Goins said via email. “Most parents had a car seat but the child was not secured properly.”
Even though parents were inconvenienced by the traffic stop, Goins felt most were grateful for the tips and new seats.
“Once parents realized our main goal was for their children to be safe riding down the road, they were very receptive to our instructions and tips for the car seats,” Goins said. “The most important reason for Safe Kids participating in the checkpoint is that 20 children are now riding safely and parents know who to contact if they have questions about a car seat in the future. Parents in Anson County can visit the Anson County Partnership for Children for help because we are the lead agency for the local Safe Kids Coalition.”
Taiquana Wright and her boyfriend, Paul Garner, of Bennettsville, South Carolina, were driving with their 11-month-old son to a friend’s house when they were stopped. They had recently purchased a new seat for the child thinking that he’d outgrown his old one, but Partnership staff gave them a smaller one appropriate for the baby’s size. The larger seat was stored in the trunk for when the baby grows into it.
“We thought they were just checking for licenses and DWIs, but we weren’t expecting to get a new car seat,” Wright said.
“I think they did a very good job giving away car seats and showing the proper way of having a kid inside it as far a safe way to be in car seats,” he said. “They’re actually installing it and all and showing us the right way.”
Their baby also received a free book the Partnership gave away to children in detained vehicles.
Virgil Dawkins and his wife, Lestine, also of South Carolina, had a van full of children when they were stopped: they were transporting their young grandson, two granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.
“It’s best to be safe than sorry,” Virgil Dawkins said. “It’s inconvenient but very educational. The people who did our inspection were very safe and thorough.”
Dawkins said he learned a good deal about car seat safety and variations in the law from state to state during the stop, and said he wished he’d known before to leave the baby’s car seat rear-facing longer. He said more information on the topic, such as a pamphlet in the mail, would help parents and caregivers stay up-to-date on car seat safety.
“Outstanding,” Dawkins said. “It’s a big help financially, especially when you’re retired and on a fixed income.”
“We would like people to understand that we understand that having to stop for a DWI checkpoint is an inconvenience, however, it saves lives,” Polkton Police Chief Matthew Norris said via email. “Although we only arrested one (for driving while impaired), we also (were) able to provide child restraint safety checks and make sure they are also applied to the vehicles properly, took illegal narcotics off the streets, and captured two wanted individuals.”
Norris encouraged travelers to be grateful for the stops, even if they slow them down.
“Though these checkpoints that occur across the state of North Carolina are inconvenient to the motoring public, they are a necessity to keeping our communities and roadways safer,” Norris said. “We encourage everyone that goes through one of these checkpoints to tell an officer ‘thank you’ for standing in the heat, cold, etc. attempting to make our roadways and communities safer.”
“We would like to thank everyone that helped us achieve the success of this checkpoint,” Norris said, adding that there were total of 28 officers present from: the Wadesboro, Lilesville, Hamlet, Marshville, Pinehurst, Candor and Laurinburg police departments; the Anson County Sheriff’s Office; the N.C. State Highway Patrol; N.C. Alcohol Law Enforcement Division; the N.C. BATmobile (Breath Alcohol Testing bus); and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The Polkton Fire Department was on hand to provide lighting and assist with traffic control, and Anson EMS was there for a short period.
Austin, the woman pulled over for marijuana, child restraint and license violations, said the officers were “just doing their job.”
“I love the hospitality; it’s good hospitality,” she said. “I haven’t been harassed, I didn’t hear no smart remarks, it didn’t get out of hand with anybody…With the situation I’m in, I put myself in it. I can’t put that on nobody.”
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.