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Freistatt Lions Club distributes warning cards

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A new twist occurred this year at the annual Freistatt Lions Club Ernte Fest celebration. Cards were distributed at the festival that encouraged people to report any "law enforcement harassment or inappropriate actions to the Friestatt [sic] Lion's [sic] Club. 417-235-5856."

That move came as a slap in the face to Lawrence County Sheriff Brad DeLay, who had worked with the club this year to ensure the message was plain: "Don't drink and drive."

"I met with the Lions Club several months before Ernte Fest to discuss how we were going to work together to prevent drinking and driving," DeLay said. "I thought things had been worked out.

"We agreed to place officers at the command post and to show a presence and let people know that we would be looking for intoxicated drivers," DeLay explained. "Most of the workers there also shared in that idea and helped by spreading the word to have a designated driver. They also posted a large, lighted sign [on the grounds] that advised people there were checkpoints out on the road."

Those measures were acceptable, according to DeLay, who said his primary concern was having not drunk drivers behind the wheel.

"I know the Lions Club doesn't want any drunk drivers and they were taking great steps to prevent as many as possible from doing so. We were working together on that project."

The cards being distributed at the annual festival came as an unpleasant surprise not only to DeLay, but other law enforcement agencies who were taking part in a nationwide campaign to prevent drinking and driving.

"Frankly, I am not at all happy with the cards," DeLay said. "We were blindsided by them. To me, it says that [the Lions Club] is just looking for something to complain about and assuming that we are there to harass or make inappropriate actions. To me, it gives the presumption that we are causing problems.

"I am not sure how all of this came about," DeLay continued, "but I am going to assume that it was done by a small, very small, handful of people."

Lawrence County Prosecuting Attorney Don Trotter weighed in on the matter.

"It's not illegal for the cards to be passed out," he said. "I think they were distributed because of incidents that occurred last year. So far, I haven't heard of any incidents this year."

Harold Lampe, president of the Freistatt Lions Club, offered an explanation after the fact.

"We took this action because of matters that occurred last year," Lampe said. "There were some inappropriate stops made by law enforcement officials."

As to which agencies were responsible for those stops, Lampe claimed ignorance.

"We had numerous complaints from people who were stopped for speeding or not coming to a full stop," Lampe said. "Those people were then questioned if they had been drinking at Ernte Fest."

Lampe said he and other members of the Lions Club resent the assumption that the only reason people attend the celebration is to get drunk.

"We have German food and music in addition to the beer garden," Lampe said. "Just because people attend the festival doesn't mean they are going to get drunk and drive."

Lampe said the reason the cards were distributed was to collect information to turn over to the sheriff's department.

"We heard that there was a police car parked at the Stotts City exit that had a sign concerning a checkpoint," Lampe said. "But there was no checkpoint. We felt that it was there to divert the backroad drivers back to the checkpoint area to be stopped and queried."

Lampe did not say whether the information provided was confirmed by any member of the Lions Club or the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department. Lampe was also unable to identify whether it was a city, county or state vehicle that was reportedly at the exit.

"We parked 1,800 vehicles on both nights," Lampe said. "The Sheriff's Department had nine DWIs on Saturday night. That's incredibly low.

"We don't want people not attending Ernte Fest, because they are afraid of being stopped inappropriately," he continued. "We are concerned about [the DWI enforcement] saturation patrols and inappropriate actions. Some people called it harassment."

Regardless of the reasons for the cards being distrubuted, DeLay stands behind the DWI enforcement effort.

" A total of 403 cars were checked for the enforcement campaign. Because of our efforts, I believe we made an impact on both nights," he said. "I believe our total was 11 DWI arrests. That number is down from 18 and 23 in previous years. Hopefully, that number will continue to decrease to the point that we don't have to arrest anyone for drinking and driving."

In addition to 11 arrests for DWI, 95 warnings were issued for various moving violations such as speeding and 20 summonses were issued for speeding and other driving violations. The checkpoint was a combined effort between the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Southwest Missouri DWI Task Force and volunteers from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD).

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