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Attempted citizen's arrest ends with ticket
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Liberty County resident George Whitlock Jr. says his grandsons narrowly missed getting hit by a large white Ford pickup whose driver sped around a school bus Monday morning on Highway 196 near Gum Branch.
“The boys (ages 5 and 9) were holding hands, getting ready to cross to the bus,” Whitlock said. “The pickup truck driver would have hit both of them if they’d crossed the road. To my way of thinking, that’s attempted murder to drive that reckless.”
Whitlock said his daughter-in-law, Kimberly Whitlock, was waiting with her children and luckily pulled them back when she saw the truck swerve around the slowing bus.
Whitlock said his son, George Whitlock III, then jumped in his van and tried to chase down the speeding pickup that had ignored the school bus stop signal.
Whitlock said his son wanted to make a citizen’s arrest, but was instead ticketed for speeding by a Liberty County Sheriff’s deputy.
“They gave my son a $300-$400 ticket and let the other guy go,” Whitlock said. “Why should the police be judge and jury and be allowed [to decide] who to give the ticket to?”
Whitlock said deputies told his son he should have telephoned the sheriff’s office to report the pickup.
“What would a phone call have done?” Whitlock asked. “You got the guy caught red-handed and you let him go? How are you going to do a better job if you call than when you’ve got him right here? They made my son get back in his van and wouldn’t let him tell what happened.”
Sheriff Don Martin said Whitlock’s son should never have attempted a citizen’s arrest, and was duly cited for speeding.
“There were other kids lined up, waiting for the bus on that road,” Martin said. “Two wrongs don’t make a right. Mr. Whitlock (III) should not have jumped in his vehicle and chased (the pickup) at high speeds.”
Martin said with the sketchy description given of the pickup and without a tag number, it would be impossible for deputies to locate the driver.
“How many white pickup trucks do you think there are in Liberty County?” Martin said. “All he could have done was to get the tag number. He wasn’t going to catch up to him.”
Martin said he does not want any citizen who isn’t a certified law enforcement officer to stop anyone.
“It’s dangerous,” he said.
Whitlock said when he called the Liberty County School Transportation Office he was told vehicles illegally speed around stopped buses “all the time in Hinesville.”
“I’m thinking there’s a radio on the bus and that the bus driver, just like a teacher, is in charge of my grandchildren’s safety,” he said.”
According to school transportation officials, school bus drivers do report incidents to law enforcement and to their supervisors.
Transportation Director Mickey Bayens said the bus driver involved in Monday’s incident reported he had his yellow caution lights on, signaling he was going to stop. The bus driver also reported that the pickup came around the bus so fast he wasn’t able to see driver or get the truck’s tag number.
“Then he (the bus driver) put his red lights on,” Bayens said. “When a bus driver puts the red lights on, the (stop) arm goes out.”
Bayens said local law enforcement has been helpful when drivers report reckless driving incidents.
“When we have issues we do ask them to be out, especially on (Highway) 84,” Bayens said. “On 84, you are required — by law — to stop on both sides of the highway when the bus has its red lights on and its arm out. The reason is that there is not a solid grass or concrete median that divides the highway. Our bus drivers try to give other drivers enough distance with their caution ambers (yellow lights) to let them know they are preparing to stop.”
Bayens said not all drivers obey bus safety laws.
“The bus drivers let us know when they can get a license plate and a description of the person,” he said. “But sometimes it just happens so fast, they can’t catch it. They’re looking at other things, checking their mirrors. Unfortunately, it goes on in Liberty County. It goes on in every state.”
Whitlock said the school transportation office did move his grandsons’ bus stop so the children would no longer have to cross the highway to board the bus.
“They put the bus stop on the side of the road where the house is,” he said.
Whitlock said his biggest concern “is the safety of our children.” He suggests residents become more aware of what happens in the community and report reckless drivers.
 “I’ve reported drunk drivers going down the road by cell phone,” Whitlock said. “It’s a citizen’s responsibility to report when people are breaking the law. Our police can’t be everywhere.”
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