Va. Man's Ticket for Aiding Geese Crossing Is No Flight of Fancy

Jozsef Vamosi stopped traffic to help the birds.
Jozsef Vamosi stopped traffic to help the birds. (Photo By Linda Vamosi - Photo By Linda Vamosi)
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By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 3, 2009

"Make Way for Ducklings"?

Not if the Fairfax County police are around.

The popular children's book, about a family of ducks escorted across a busy street by a Boston police officer, apparently is not on the reading list in Fairfax. When Jozsef Vamosi, 60, tried to help a family of Canada geese cross the Fairfax County Parkway, he was given a ticket by a Fairfax officer -- for jaywalking.

The geese guardian, who lives in Fairfax, is taking his case to court. His trial is set for 9:30 Monday morning in Fairfax General District Court.

"I don't feel guilty," said Vamosi, a home remodeling contractor who said he has been involved in rescuing both people and animals in the past. "My instinct is you try to do something good. We are only humans. I can sleep."

Fairfax police said they couldn't discuss a pending case and acknowledged that motorists in such situations have good intentions. But they said the safety of other motorists is also a concern and is a factor officers consider when deciding whether to issue a summons.

"We can appreciate the citizens' response and compassion for wildlife," Officer Don Gotthardt said. "But a more prudent response would be to pull off the road and use their cellphone. Call the police, and have them respond."

Vamosi said there was no time to wait, as about a dozen geese seemed ready to make their way across the four lanes of traffic on the parkway. Gotthardt said police are very responsive to potential traffic hazards on a major roadway and typically arrive quickly.

The episode unfolded in Reston on June 18, a Thursday, about 9:30 a.m., Vamosi said. Vamosi was driving north on the parkway approaching the Dulles Toll Road when he spotted several smaller geese edging toward the pavement, a full gaggle behind them.

"They were walking like gentlemen," Vamosi said, upright and confident. "Like the Beatles on 'Abbey Road.' "

Vamosi said he pulled his car to the left lane, got out and stood in the right lane. "I showed them my hand," Vamosi said, "and said, 'Move, move, move!' " Vamosi said he grew up in the countryside of Hungary and felt he knew how to approach the animals without spooking them.

The three larger and eight smaller geese waddled to the parkway's wide median, mission halfway accomplished. Vamosi then stepped into the southbound lanes, held up his hands to signal approaching cars, and the cars stopped, he said. Again he urged the feathered pedestrians to make haste. They did, ducked under a guardrail and continued on their way, Vamosi said.

"Everything came out fantastic," Vamosi said. Then an officer sped to the scene.

"He jumped out the car, yelling at me," Vamosi said of the officer, identified in court records as Kevin J. Rusin. Vamosi said that he asked the officer if he was there to help and that Rusin responded by questioning Vamosi's sanity. The officer said Vamosi's priorities were misplaced on a busy highway, Vamosi said. Vamosi added that he had previously helped a Fairfax officer chase some geese off Interstate 395 and was not ticketed.

He said Rusin instructed him to sit in his car and eventually gave him the jaywalking summons. Vamosi said he told the officer that he would fight the ticket. "And if I had the chance, I'd do it again," he said. "That's the way I'm raised."

In Massachusetts, "Make Way for Ducklings" is the state's official children's book, and statues of the ducklings stand in Boston's Public Garden.

In Virginia, the law states that "pedestrians shall not carelessly or maliciously interfere with the orderly passage of vehicles." There is no jail time for violating the law, only a fine of as much as $250.

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