On the web since 1997
Runaway Bride Runs into Legal ComplicationsMichael M. Bates / www.michaelmbates.com -- I donít purport to be an authority. But it seems to me having as many bridal showers as Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky has had marriages is an obvious red flag. Things are spiraling out of control.
Weddings have a way of doing that. Almost everyone, even those remotely involved, has a suggestion or two.
The bride and groom, trying to satisfy as many people as possible, often end up making arrangements they really arenít happy with. The result is what should be a joyful celebration turns into a nerve-racking, embittering experience.
This weekís adventure of the runaway bride briefly diverted attention from Senate filibusters, Social Security reform, North Korean missile testing and those other matters that, while terribly important, cause our eyes to glaze over.
Most Americans may not know who the Supreme Courtís chief justice is, but theyíve all heard about the runaway bride. And have strong opinions about her.
The woman acted most negligently. For starters, she unnecessarily put her parents through days of torment. Most of us can only imagine the suffering to which theyíve been subjected.
Then there was the anguish suffered by other family members and friends worried about her safety. Hundreds of volunteers, many of them strangers, took time to help look for her. All of them must feel a sense of betrayal.
Moreover, she subjected her fiancť to suspicions that he was involved with her disappearance. Every time the coupleís picture was broadcast, you just knew viewers were wondering if they were looking at another Scott Peterson.
Not taking a police-administered lie detector test fueled the speculation.
Then we have the cost of searching for the woman. Federal, state and local agencies were all involved. Dozens of the cityís policemen and detectives worked overtime looking for her. It may not be possible to calculate with exactitude what the womanís actions cost taxpayers, but the total is not inconsequential. And police had to divert resources from working on real crimes while they looked for her.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the local district attorney says, "What Iíve been hearing from the public is that she should receive some type of consequence for her actions. The first decision I need to make is that if legally can I pursue charges. The second question I need to answer is if I want to press charges."
Which has to make you wonder how that office decides which cases to prosecute: Does it take a sampling of public opinion and then determine whether or not to move forward?
Judging by talk radio and general chatter, many folks are taking a hard line against the runaway bride. Put her in jail, say the toughies. Make her pay for everyoneís time and effort, say others. She premeditated her actions and made a false police report, claiming a Hispanic male and a Caucasian woman had abducted her.
On the other side, there are the understanding sympathizers. Leading this group were law enforcement officials in New Mexico, where she ended up. They gave her a new outfit including underwear, a teddy bear and a tote bag. Oh, and she got an FBI cap and polo shirt.
Most of the gifts came from the police departmentís Victimís Services Unit. Thatís telling. She was perceived there as a victim rather than as a perpetrator.
Sympathizers contend the poor woman was under so much stress she absolutely had to get away. Itís not her fault other people assumed the worst, merely because she took a powder without telling anyone and left behind her wallet, cell phone, car keys and her diamond engagement ring. Not to mention a clump of her hair.
Yet her partisans assert that she represents Everywoman and merits hugs, not penalties.
The suggestionís been made that the reward money offered by the coupleís families be given to authorities to help compensate for the search costs. That isnít fair. This woman is in her 30s, not a child by any standard, and parents shouldnít be held accountable for her actions.
Sheís the one who should bear responsibility. Itís not against the law to get cold feet thinking about marriage. Generally, itís not against the law to go where you want to go.
But itís certainly against the law to concoct a story about being kidnapped. She should answer for that.
Most of her conduct wasnít criminal, but rather exceedingly bad behavior. The punishment for that is apparently wearing a towel on your head at the airport and public mortification for an extended period of time. And maybe a book deal.
(This appears in the May 5, 2005 Oak Lawn (IL) Reporter. Mike Bates is the author of Right Angles and Other Obstinate Truths.)