Travelers ‘arrested’ for not stopping to visit Jennings
Texas couple sentenced to enjoy free gumbo, gifts
JENNINGS — It was a good day to get pulled over in Jeff Davis Parish Thursday.
Instead of issuing traffic citations, deputies from the Jeff Davis Parish Sheriff’s Office targeted out-of-state motorists who did not stop to partake in the city of Jennings’ hospitality.
The mock arrests of out-of-state travelers is part of the local Optimist Club’s annual holiday tradition, which invites tourists to spend some time in the city.
Harold and Demetria Jones of Humble, Texas, were traveling to Orlando, Fla., for vacation when they were stopped by sheriff deputies at the local Shop Rite and escorted to the Immanuel Lutheran Church, where they were "arrested, tried and convicted" for not stopping in the city.
"I thought I’d done something wrong, but I knew I didn’t," Harold said. "I was relieved to find what it was all about, but then I was like ‘Are you serious?’ It sounded like a trap to arrest us, but then they told me we’d get free gumbo, and that sounded good to me."
The Jones, who have been married for four years, had stopped at the Shop Rite for food and gas, a stop they have made hundreds of times.
"But this is one time we won’t forget," Harold laughed. "It’s gonna be a good story to tell people."
Demetria said at first she was surprised by being stopped by the deputies, but after she learned what was going on, she and her husband agreed to play along with the mock arrests.
"I’m not guilty," Demetria jokingly protested. "If he (Harold) goes to jail, I’m moving on. I’ll stop and get him on my way back."
Optimist Club member Gayle Jones said the mock tourists arrest has become a holiday tradition for the club for more than 50 years. It was started by late board member and local businessman, Paul Schonsby, who had moved from the north to Jennings with his wife.
"They found the people and the area so friendly and they wanted to show others what a wonderful community Jennings is," she said.
Instead of paying a fine or serving jail time, the tourists are sentenced to enjoy gumbo and gifts of Louisiana products from local businesses.
Assistant District Attorney Stacey Naquin was prosecutor for the mock trial and local attorney Derek Bisig served as the defense attorney. City Judge Daniel Stretcher presided over the trial, declaring the couple guilty by reason of insanity for not stopping in Jennings.