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A tale of mercy, featuring Dad, a hospital, a speed trap and a judge

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By Charlie Sacchetti

               Oct. 3, 1988, was a very long day for my mother, Catherine, and me. We had arrived at Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital in Darby, Pennsylvania, at 6 a.m. We would not leave until 16 hours later. The reason we were there was to lend support to my father, Henry, who would be undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous prostate gland. Multiple emergencies and other delays caused the surgery, originally scheduled for 8 a.m., to commence at 6 p.m. By the time Dad was awake and back in his room, it was 9 p.m. We stayed with our groggy loved one until 10, when sheer exhaustion from the long hours of frustration, worry, and stress won out, then we waved the white flag of surrender and left for home. We were beat, especially Mom, who was 80 years old at the time. 

               To say that I was in a hurry to get Mom home and hit the sack in my own bed in New Jersey would be an understatement. As we left the parking garage in my 1978 Malibu Classic, I made a quick turn onto Lansdowne Avenue and took off. By the time I made the short ride to the intersection at MacDade Boulevard, I saw the flashing red-and-blue lights in my rear-view mirror. After pulling over, I rolled down the window to speak with the police officer, who told me I was doing 40 in a 25-mph zone. His tone was nearly jubilant, but I was in no mood to dispute him, so I simply took the ticket and drove (carefully) away. I had been caught in a speed trap with no visible speed-limit sign displayed from my departure point to where I was stopped.

               The ticket was for $120, which I was ready to pay and forget about until I was reminded that a moving violation would earn me a three-year “surcharge” on my insurance premium, most likely totaling about $300 per year. Now we had a different ballgame. I decided to go to court and plead my case. I received the summons and, in three weeks, I would have my day in court. That morning, the courtroom was very crowded, and I found out I would be the fifth case heard. I recognized the cop who had given me the ticket when he entered and took his place at a podium to the right of the judge’s bench. I realized that this guy was very familiar with the process and was probably one of Darby’s largest fundraisers. This particular speed trap was apparently his little gold mine. I felt it wise to observe how the judge handled himself as he heard the various excuses. Perhaps this would give me the edge I needed to avoid the $1,000 payoff for which I was on the hook.

               As I sat waiting for the first case to be heard, I reached into my pocket to be sure I had the letter I retrieved from the surgeon, which stated that Dad’s surgery had been delayed and that Mom and I had spent 16 hours at the hospital. The first defendant was caught in the speed trap doing 42 mph. A man of about 30 years of age, he told the judge he was from out of town and wasn’t familiar with the area. Nice try, buddy. 

               “Guilty! Fine and costs … See the clerk!”

               I wasn’t about to use that excuse. The next case involved two elderly ladies who entered the trap and were doing 40 mph, like me. They said they were driving home from a Bible-study class and, while discussing the teachings, didn’t realize how fast they were going. They were so sweet that I was tempted to go and pay their fine, but it wasn’t necessary.

               “Case dismissed. Please drive more carefully, ladies!”

               The cop didn’t look too happy.

               That excuse also wouldn’t work for me. They were much more lovable than I was. The next case was an attractive young lady in her 20s who said she was blinded by the sun glare and, therefore, never saw a speed-limit sign. Unfortunately, she didn’t take the time to read her ticket, which the cop was very eager to point out listed the weather conditions as “rainy.”

               “Guilty! Fine and costs … See the clerk!”

               The next guy thought the better of it and just plead guilty. The judge showed his gratitude:

               “Guilty!  Court costs waived … See the clerk!”

               At least the motorist saved about 20 bucks. He walked out, acting as though he had hit the lottery.

               Now it was my turn. From observing the previous four cases, I determined that the judge was no fool and was capable of showing compassion if he sensed sincerity. I’d give it my best shot. When the judge asked me to present my case, I said a silent prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Then I faced the judge and said:

               “Your Honor, I am not disputing the officer’s assertion that I drove over the speed limit. I was very tired and under a lot of stress, since my 80-year-old mother and I had spent 16 hours at the hospital, as my father was undergoing cancer surgery. I just wanted to take her home to get some rest and then get back to my home, which is 40 miles away. I meant no disrespect to the law and have never had a moving violation in the 40-plus years I’ve been driving. Also, Your Honor, I happen to have a letter from the surgeon attesting to the fact that we had such a long, stressful day, just in case you’d like to read it.”

               The judge asked for the letter, looked at me for a few seconds, then looked at the cop and said, “You know, officer, it’s obvious that sometimes the stress of such a trying day as this can cause a good citizen to make an honest mistake.

               “Case dismissed. Have a safe trip home!”

               As I left the courtroom, I gave the cop a smile, and he gave me one too. 

               By the way, Dad did fine, lived another 16 good years, and when I hear the name Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital, I think about the little bit of mercy thrown my way back in 1988.


Charlie Sacchetti is the author of two books,“It’s All Good: Times and Events I’d Never Want to Change,” and “Knowing He’s There: True Stories of God’s Subtle Yet Unmistakable Touch.” Contact him at worthwhilewords21@gmail.com

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