Leader Blues

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TOP STORY >> Mom honors late son’s memory

By JULIA HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

State Trooper Tim Ghoshon’s vow to ticket his mother, Addie Gibson, for not wearing her seat belt inspired one of the ads Arkansas State Police are running to remind motorists to buckle up.

State Police officials last week unveiled a series of television spots they’re running in advance of the state’s new primary seat belt law, which takes effect at the end of the month.

Under current law, not wearing a seat belt is a secondary violation, meaning motorists could not be pulled over for that offense but could be ticketed if they were stopped for some other reason.

In one of the spots, Gibson portrays a driver pulled over by her son, a state trooper.

“If I would give my own mother a ticket, I wouldn’t think twice about giving you one,” the trooper in the ad says.

Gibson, a 49-year resident of Jacksonville, said the TV commercial was inspired partly by a story she used to tell about her son, who died from leukemia in 2005 at the age of 40 after serving in law enforcement for 13 years.

Gibson said Ghoshon had twice warned her about not wearing her seat belt when driving to his house.

The third time, he told her, “Mom, you have been told to wear your seat belt. If I catch you out somewhere without your seat belt on, I’m going to write you a ticket,” Gibson recalled.

“And he was serious, he was not smiling,” she explained, “because, if he was in law enforcement, he was expecting for his family to do the law first and then spread it out. He was really expecting for the family to do what they were supposed to do.”

“One of the troopers from the Arkansas State Police headquarters called me because he was at Tim’s funeral and heard me tell the story. Because they’re getting ready to enforce the seat-belt law, he said, ‘Well hey, why don’t I just get her and we can do a commercial?’,” Gibson said.

She agreed to do the commercial as a way to memorialize her son and also let people know that the seat-belt law will change.

Gibson, who is chairwoman of the Concerned Citizens of Jacksonville, is always trying to make people’s lives better.

The Concerned Citizens of Jacksonville is a multi-purpose organization doing whatever they can to assist the Jacksonville community, she said.

The group regularly maintains Johnson Cemetery on Military Road. “We always try to make sure it’s cleaned up,” Gibson said.

On her own, Gibson speaks to the elderly about the local health services available to them. “I have a lady that I take to the doctor free of charge,” Gibson said.

Gibson is also an active member of Keep Jacksonville Beautiful and the Jacksonville Housing Authority.

Considering her humanitarian record, it’s no wonder she was willing to lend her image to the seat-belt campaign.

The spot in which she stars is among several others the State Police are airing around the state, dubbing the new restrictions as a “law you can live with.”

Col. Winford Phillips, director of Arkansas State Police, said he hopes to educate motorists about the new law with the ads. But State Police officials also said that there would not be any “grace period” where drivers would be given warnings instead of tickets.

“If you’re stopped for some other violation or you’re seen not wearing your seat belt, there will be some sort of enforcement action taken,” said Maj. Ed Wolfe, highway patrol commander for the state’s eastern region.

Phillips said he didn’t expect the department would see a spike in tickets issued for seat-belt violations and said police weren’t looking at it as a new way to make money.

“The reason for this law is not to generate revenue or to write tickets,” Phillips said. “It’s to have the law enforced and followed by the citizens of the state.”

Civil rights groups remain wary of the new law, warning that it could open the door to harassment of minority drivers by police.

Dale Charles, head of the Arkansas NAACP, said he expected to see an increase in the number of black and Hispanic drivers pulled over around the state because of the new law.

“We still feel this is the worst law that’s been passed with no data collection, no system set up to monitor the overzealous use of the process when it relates to African Americans,” Charles said.

Sen. Hank Wilkins IV, who sponsored the seat-belt law, defended the measure and said that not everyone from the NAACP opposed it.

Wilkins also noted that he backed a companion bill requiring the state to set up a hotline for callers to report complaints of racial profiling.

Gibson says that, regardless of color issues, “the law is a great idea” and that those breaking the law should be punished. Now, “whoever gets into [her] car, the car does not move until everybody has their seat belt on.”

And she thinks that her son would be pleased about the changes. If he were alive, “he’d be enforcing the law even more because it’s becoming law.

“Even before the seat-belt law came or even thought about being a law, he was telling us, ‘Once you get in your car and sit down, the first thing you do is grab your seat belt and put it on.’ That was his thing.”