Aug 31, 200912:00 AM
The Editor's Room
Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde
Errol Laborde: The Incident
Fraud in the supermarket parking lot
I called 911 yesterday to report an accident that did not happen.
My saga began innocently enough in the parking lot of the Rouses Supermarket on North Carrollton. The store is quite popular, especially on Sundays, so much so that I had to inch along through the parking lot to find a space. I was barely moving near the front of the store when a woman shopper, who was on her way out, brushed along my left front fender.
She then turned to me and began yelling: “You hit me! You hit me!!!”
I was stunned. “I did not hit you, ma’am,” I replied while trying to maintain composure.
“You hit me, “ she insisted. “I can feel a pain in my back!”
I repeated, “I did not hit you!”
She insisted I did and then, as though it was an afterthought, added, “And I am holding a baby.” The infant in her arms, who I took to be a grandchild, had a beaming smile on his face that did not indicate pain.
Just then a van pulled up alongside the screaming woman. “Did he hit you?” the van driver, a younger woman, asked with an inflection that revealed a predetermined verdict.
“Call the police!” the van driver, who had been nowhere around when all this started, yelled.
“I did not hit anyone!” I yelled back.
With traffic building up behind me, I decided to move my car to the closest available spot, which was about a dozen vehicles down.
By the time I walked back to where the screaming lady had been, she was gone. I saw her getting into her automobile –– showing no pain –– and then driving away. The van was gone, too.
With there being no alleged victim of an alleged accident, this story might have ended here, but I was reeling. I did not know if what had happened was a setup or not, but I did know that if anyone was going to be calling the police, it would be me.
I dialed 911.
“Where is the emergency?” the operator asked hurriedly.
“There is no emergency,” I answered. “I just want to know what number to call to report an accident.”
“Where did the accident happen?” she asked.
“Well, the accident really didn’t happen,” I answered, “but I wanted to report it in case someone called.”
Fortunately the 911 operator was very professional. I explained the incident to her. She responded with the impassionate details of someone who had heard it all before. Because the incident occurred in the supermarket parking lot, which was private property, the police would not investigate. The accuser and I, she said, should exchange phone numbers. That person, of course, was long gone.
In the whole realm of public safety, the incident was trivial, but in my universe it was Category 5.
I thought about telling the store manager and the security guard what happened, but then I realized I was not going to arouse much interest over a story about an accident that did not happen.
I did spot a departing shopper whom I recognized as having once worked for the city attorney’s office. I explained what happened, thinking that maybe he was aware of some obscure law that applied to victimless accidents. He merely smiled and said, “I wouldn’t worry about it.”
And I shouldn’t. But I was angry. I was angry at the woman for trying to commit a fraud. I was angry at her again for exploiting a child in the incident. I was double- angry at the woman in the van for trying to inflame the incident. And I was angry at whatever social ills and circumstances caused these women to behave the way they did.
I hope the child grows up in a better world than his grandparent. My guess is that this was not the first time the older woman claimed to be an accident victim: Her reaction was smooth and seemed programmed, as though honed with experience. Maybe one day she will learn that each innocent person she accuses feels as though he has been run over and that he too feels a pain — in his soul.
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Krewe: The Early New Orleans Carnival - Comus to Zulu by Errol Laborde is available at all area bookstores. Books can also be ordered via e- mail at email@example.com or (504) 895-2266.
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