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.

Let us know what you think. Any comments about this article? Write to All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this newsletter. Please include your name and location. 


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 or (504) 895-2266.




Reader Comments:
Aug 31, 2009 02:26 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Unfortunatley those "incidents" and the people who are involved are the reason I moved my family from New Orleans 3 years ago. I know those things happen across the country but they seem to happen the most in New Orleans and that is what is destroying a great city.

Aug 31, 2009 02:35 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I had a somewhat similar incident many years ago in which a young boy (perhaps 11 years old) hit my car with his hand as I was slowly driving by in a post office parking lot and claimed that I hit him. I rolled down the window and told him he was lying and he boldly reached his hand in, unlocked my car and hopped in the front seat. I called 911 and described the situation, after which the boy asked for "taxi money to take me to Charity." I gave him some spare change in the console and he took off quickly before the police came. The police asked for a description and looked for him but couldn't find him.

Aug 31, 2009 03:21 pm
 Posted by  Wigs

My mother had a similar incident at the corner of Canal and Carrollton maybe 20 years ago. A young couple pulled up beside her car and said she had hit them. She told them they were crazy and pulled off (She was probably 80 at the time!). The coupld the apparently went to the police station on Moss and filed a report. My mother was told to appear with her car. The very nice policeman inspected the car top to bottom and waived her off with a smile. Nothing else ever came of it but it was very disconcerting to say the least.

Aug 31, 2009 03:52 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Errol - I understand that you were upset and in the moment, but I'm disappointed in your dialing 911 for this and I'm concerned about the example you're setting. This was NOT a 911 incident. 911 is for serious emergencies, not attempted fraud.

In this reader's opinion, this is the equivalent of calling 911 while stuck in traffic - it fulfills the immediate personal need to speak to an authority figure while accomplishing nothing.

Since you've had time to settle down - perhaps you can reconsider your own actions on that day. Was it really necessary to tie up a 911 emergency dispatcher for this?

S--t snowballs. This woman hit you with some s--t, and you multiplied the size of the s--t-ball by calling the 911 operator with it. Well, the s--t has to stop rolling along somewhere. How about a disclaimer acknowledging proper and responsible usage of 911? Who knows, someone else out there might try this s--t - and we all know s--t happens.

Aug 31, 2009 04:27 pm
 Posted by  kit

Frankly, scams are abundant here, perhaps most large cities. I always have 911 up on my cell phone and ready to dial when outdoors or in the car. As well, if someone attempts a hustle, simply say "Let me take your picture," aim your cell and photograph them and then the license number of their vehicle if possible. They will depart in haste.

My husband had the same scam pulled on him in a shopping center parking lot.

Keep car doors locked and windows rolled up when you are in your vehicle. Women especially should be cautious when driving to and from from high-end stores in affluent neighborhoods.

Aug 31, 2009 04:57 pm
 Posted by  Errol Laborde

Thank you for your comments, but I do NOT see my incident as an improper use of 911. I called that number for directions on where to file my information. The fact that the operator took time to explain the legalities was her decision not mine. I am well aware that the name and numbers of all those who call 911 is available to the operators and posted on the system so frivolous callers can easily be detected.

Aug 31, 2009 06:54 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I agree with anonymous, you should have called the none emergency line for police.
They have that to give you info for NON EMERGENCIES!

We need to save 911 for real emergencies

Sep 1, 2009 05:54 am
 Posted by  armadilloz

911 should be used for real emergencies. But , Errol, your use of 911 is understandable and defendable. And it didn't drive up the cost for the service. Hospital ER's and ambulances should also be used only for emergencies... not for colds,aches, pains and other miscellaneous minor illnesses. Now there's a big chunk of medicare costs gone out the roof over the last 20 years. Clean up that mess and a few other problems (i.e. fraudulent medical claims such as in your incident, greedy doctor fees, outlandish & unrealistic hospital charges) and we won't need a federal healthcare bill. Sorry, I had to get it off my chest. Back to your recent experience, obviously a scam, and unfortunately too representative of the "N'awlins culture".

Sep 5, 2009 05:35 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Mr. Laborde- I agree with some of the other commentators that calling was 911 was perfectly understandable and defensible. One reason that I left NOLA was incidents just like this- and the abundance of black-on-white crime that is somehow overlooked by the press and even justified in this once-beautiful city. I am not "cracka" or "whitey"; if I called someone "nigger" or "spook" I would not be alive to write this.

Sep 6, 2009 05:45 pm
 Posted by  LakeviewChick

Anonymous: I'm glad you don't live here anymore. It is people like you who contribute to racial tensions. Mr. Laborde DID NOT mention the woman's race. But you infer that she is black. This is part of the reason there's so much hostility toward us whites in the first place...because we DO harbor racist tendencies (whether we want to admit it or not)and the only time we care about the black community is when its "criminal" ways affect our communities.

Please stay wherever you are. We don't need you here.

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The Editor's Room

Weekly Commentary with New Orleans Magazine’s Errol Laborde


Errol LabordeErrol Laborde holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of New Orleans and is the editor-in-chief of Renaissance Publishing. In that capacity he serves as editor/associate publisher of New Orleans Magazine and editor/publisher of Louisiana Life magazine.

Errol is also a producer and a regular panelist on Informed Sources, a weekly news discussion program broadcast on public television station WYES-TV, Channel 12. Errol is a three-time winner of the Alex Waller Award, the highest award given in print journalism by the Press Club of New Orleans. He also received the National and City Regional Magazine Association Award for Best Column for his New Orleans Magazine column, beating out 76 city magazines across the country. In 2013, Errol received the award for the "Best News Affiliated Blog," awarded by the Press Club of New Orleans.

Errol’s most recent books are Krewe: The Early Carnival from Comus to Zulu and Marched the Day God: A History of the Rex Organization. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and traveling with his wife, Peggy, to anywhere they can get away to, but some of his favorite spots are the Caribbean and historic locations around Louisiana. You can reach Errol at (504) 830-7235 or




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