Important message part of unwelcome present from 'Santa'

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Something about it just wasn't kosher.

At least it fell short of the true spirit of Hanukkah, let alone Christmas.

Twenty-three Salina, Kansas, shoppers thought they were having a friendly encounter with Santa, when it turned out they were being busted for seatbelt violations Tuesday night.

Shoppers were delighted to see a man in full Santa garb, complete with a boom box playing Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music, on the exit from the Walmart parking lot, distributing candy canes to people in cars on the way out.

What they didn't know was that he was radioing ahead to tell a fellow policeman, mounted on a motorcycle, who was naughty -- at least who wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

Those who weren't got a $10 ticket, courtesy the Salina Police Department.

"It's the safety of the citizens we're looking out for," Lt. Russ Lamar, aka Santa, told the Salina Journal. "We want people to wear seat belts all the time, not just when the police are around."

One of the "naughty" shoppers -- who long-time Gazette readers might remember as regional editor Tim Matas -- was able to talk himself out of a ticket because of a medical condition. His wife, Carol, got the ticket, however.

Matas said it was a bad bit of public relations for Salina, and would have been better received as a warning to buckle up. Instead, he said, the fine money won't be going to local businesses or charities like the Salvation Army.

It was a "kids' prank, a joke," he told the newspaper. "They're not showing any professionalism when they're out there faking Santa Claus stuff," he said.

"Whomever was responsible for this activity should be dismissed immediately," he said in an email to friends.

"Police are around to protect and serve. Their goal is to prevent crime and one way to do that is to appear in the vicinity. Police should be people that youngster can respect, look up to and not be ashamed or afraid of but rather a buddy of.

"No one who uses Santa Claus to trick people and give them tickets is ever going to be respected, looked up to or be a person a child can go to for help."

In defense of the police department, officers have seen far to many accidents where serious injury or death could have been prevented through the simple act of buckling up. Anyone who has been saved by a seatbelt should be glad to have received an effective reminder, even from Santa himself.

But Nebraska travelers should be aware that a seatbelt violation is now a primary offense in Kansas -- you can be stopped and ticketed for failing to buckle up. In Nebraska and many other states, you can only receive a seatbelt ticket after being stopped for something else.

So buckle up as soon as you get in the car.

No one can enjoy the true spirit of Christmas without being alive and healthy enough to experience it.

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