NAPLES — Arie Lauwers took his job as head of Wilshire Lakes' speeding committee seriously. So when "a speeding car" tried to pass him in October, he blocked the car and whipped out a police badge.
Lauwers told the driver he was a police officer, asked what he was doing and said he was in trouble.
It turned out the motorist was Randy Cohen, director of the county's Planning Department, and he was suspicious. Cohen tried driving around the other side of Lauwer's car, but he blocked him again.
So Cohen drove onto the grass and passed "the officer," who pursued him for 3 1/2 miles, from Wilshire Lakes Boulevard to the Wal-Mart parking lot at Immokalee Road and I-75. Both men called 911.
Lauwers told Collier Sheriff's Cpl. John Hurley that the Wilshire Pines, in the Wilshire Lakes development, has a serious speeding problem and he was trying to make a citizen's arrest. He was a reserve pilot with the Yolo County Sheriff's Department in California, he said, but admitted he wasn't a law enforcement officer here.
Sheriff's Detective Kristine Huff later contacted the Yolo Sheriff's Department and learned he was a member of its Aero Squadron, but wasn't a certified law enforcement officer with arrest powers.
The incident occurred on Oct. 30, but he was arrested on Dec. 18 and charged with impersonating a police officer, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in a state prison. He's been free on $2,500 bond ever since.
On Monday, defense attorney Jerry Berry explained to Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt that Lauwers' street, Wilshire Lakes Boulevard, has a speeding problem and Lauwers confronted Cohen. "He and Mr. Cohen were calling 911 at the same time and with dueling 911 calls, they decided to arrest Mr. Lauwers," Berry said.
Lauwers, 49, explained that the speeding committee usually installs signs, but he was just trying to slow down traffic as head of the speeding committee. "I'm no longer on that," Lauwers added.
"Good idea," the judge replied.
Under the plea agreement negotiated by Berry and Assistant State Attorney Rob Denny, the commerical pilot pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of displaying a police badge, the judge withheld an adjudication of guilt and sentenced him to a year of county probation. That means if he successfully completes the sentence, he won't have a criminal conviction.
As part of the plea agreement, Lauwers must undergo a psychological examination and forfeit his Yolo badge.
During probation, Lauwers, who works for several private companies in Orlando and Mexico, cannot leave the county unless it's for business. He can fly out of the country, but must provide his probation officer with his plane's tail number and flight plans.