July 2nd, 2008 12:16 PM
Drive for fireworks lands Katy teen in trouble with the law | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle
July 2, 2008, 12:12AM
FINED FOR THE FOURTH
Houston's short fuse
A Katy teen faces fireworks charges for driving through a city-annexed area
Katy teen Stephen Gegenheimer had just bought $50 worth of roman candles and fireworks Monday afternoon and was headed home to set them off in his front yard when he spotted flashing lights in his rearview mirror.
An arson officer with the Houston Fire Marshal's Office told the 17-year-old that he'd violated the law by driving through an annexed area of Houston with fireworks in his trunk.
Gegenheimer was baffled. Fireworks are illegal in the city of Houston, but legal in Harris County. He'd bought his fireworks legally at a stand in unincorporated Harris County and was planning to take them to his house in Katy, a few miles away, where he could legally use them.
But Gegenheimer's direct route from the Wal-Mart in the 1300 block of Fry Road to his house in the 20600 block of Morning Creek Drive passed through a small stretch of Fry Road that has been annexed by the city of Houston, so the officer ticketed him.
"It's ridiculous," said Gegenheimer. "I feel I haven't done anything wrong, but here I am with a $500 to $2,000 fine."
As Americans prepare to celebrate the nation's independence this weekend, Gegenheimer's tale highlights the sometimes confusing laws surrounding the sale, use and transport of fireworks in the Houston area.
City officials have issued more than 1,200 fireworks-related criminal citations since 1997, according to a Municipal Court database of alleged violations obtained by the Houston Chronicle.
"We're just enraged because we feel it's as close to entrapment as you can get," said Gegenheimer's mother, Missy. "He's a good kid. He's never had a violation or a citation in his life and he was just trying to have fun on the Fourth of July."
On Tuesday, her son testified in civil district court on behalf of TNT Fireworks, a national wholesale distributor that has filed a lawsuit against Houston, accusing officials of annexing roads for the sole purpose of enforcing fire codes that prohibit the possession of fireworks.
"We want our customers and our delivery trucks to be able to travel unfettered," said Samantha Trahan, a Houston attorney representing TNT. "Typically a fire marshal has someone who waits outside the stands and then follows customers. That's a detriment to the sale of fireworks and it affects our ability to do business."
Although Judge Martha Hill Jamison denied Trahan's request for a temporary restraining order, she admonished the city against issuing tickets to people like Gegenheimer.
"I'd suggest you get word out to your fire marshals that it's bad PR to be ticketing people who legally bought fireworks and are legally transporting them," Jamison said.
She also suggested the city post signs to indicate when a driver is entering an annexed area.
"I think that's a good idea," said Assistant City Attorney Bertrand Pourteau.
But that doesn't change the fact that TNT's suit is baseless, Pourteau said.
The city must enforce its laws in annexed areas just as it does in the city limits proper, he said.
Pourteau said he sympathizes with Gegenheimer, but the teenager's story had no place in Tuesday's civil court hearing.
"He'll have his chance to make his case in municipal court," Pourteau said.
Meanwhile, fireworks stands plan to hand out maps to customers to show them what route to take so they can avoid annexed roads.
At the TNT stand in the Wal-Mart parking lot where Gegenheimer bought his fireworks, supervisor Frank Kammerlohr said workers were "blindsided" by reports that officials were ticketing their customers.
The stand is run by volunteers with Katy's Family Life Assembly of God, which is using proceeds to fund a youth group trip to a national fine arts competition and youth convention in North Carolina.
"We obviously didn't have any idea that the HPD or the fire marshal was watching our stand with binoculars or whatever," Kammerlohr said. "I realize the city of Houston can do what it wants, but it seems kind of peculiar that they can hopscotch down Fry Road and annex this block and not that block."
I do not want this to turn into a cop bashing thread...but come on!!! This is so back handed and slimy...
For the LEO's who are on this forum. What do you think of this? Is this the cops decision or does this come down from the "powers that be"?????
July 2nd, 2008 12:45 PM
I'm willing to be this was a mandate from the higher ups... but then again I'd have to look at the entire case before I could pass judgement.
Originally Posted by nkanofolives
What was the PC for the stop? How was the fireworks discovered etc. It certainly does appear slimy, but it sounds like bean counter pressure than real police work to me.
July 2nd, 2008 12:56 PM
Actually you are "bashing" the wrong organization. The arson investigator is part of the FIRE Department! And they usually have a lot more time to do things like this.
Originally Posted by nkanofolives
EOD - Initial success or total failure
July 2nd, 2008 01:27 PM
Good point... but arson investigators are LEO's in most cases. If this one issued a citation, made a traffic stop, then he most certainly is a LEO.
Originally Posted by rstickle
July 2nd, 2008 01:42 PM
"An unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not overcome by fleeing from it."
July 2nd, 2008 01:47 PM
I can see if the kid was setting off fireworks in the city but transporting them home this is totally ridiculous and the city would not want me on a jury,I would not only not convict I think we would reach a decision in about 2 seconds
"Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,"
--Mayor Marion Barry, Washington , DC .
July 2nd, 2008 02:09 PM
He should be protected by the same transport laws covering firearms. Legal at the start and stop of the trip with no stop overs in prohibited spots.
July 2nd, 2008 02:10 PM
Originally Posted by SIXTO
People need to remember that LEOs enforce the laws as written. They don't make the laws, and they don't set the policies. But they do take 100% of the blame from people that don't understand how the system works.
July 2nd, 2008 02:42 PM
July 2nd, 2008 04:45 PM
and if the system isn't working as intended....?
Originally Posted by morintp
For me that's true and it's right. I don't care if your an LEO, and FBI agent, The President, or the friggin Pope! The way I see it, folks who follow the laws strictly with no regard for their own moral compass are worse off than the crooks. Just my opinion. I absolutely despise those..."the law says it's so, so we must do it" folks.
"My God David, We're a Civilized society."
"Sure, As long as the machines are workin' and you can call 911. But you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, and you scare the crap out of them; no more rules...You'll see how primitive they can get."
-The Mist (2007)
July 2nd, 2008 05:09 PM
Hmmm. Other than to get out of it's way, I doubt I would stop for a fire marshall. Didn't know they could make traffic stops.
I guess in Houston they can.
July 2nd, 2008 08:18 PM
Sounds Like Overtime Money To Me
July 2nd, 2008 08:19 PM
Wow, I'm so very happy to hear that the City of Houston, having solved the problems of robbery, murder, drug dealing, car theft, and rape, now have time to hassle a kid getting ready to legally celebrate our National Holiday.
"If we loose Freedom here, there's no place to escape to. This is the Last Place on Earth!" Ronald Reagan
July 2nd, 2008 08:26 PM
Our legal system also allows officers a great deal of discretion prior to arrest. However, discretion requires thought and perhaps this Firemashall Bill character isn't capable of that. Or, perhaps the kid had a smart mouth and deserved to be arrested.
Originally Posted by morintp
I'll have to withold judgement without knowing all of the facts.
When you've got 'em by the balls, their hearts & minds will follow. Semper Fi.
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