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Says She Counts as 2 in Car-Pool Lane : Mom-to-Be Wins in Court

Times Staff Writer

Sue Ann Yasger had a unique argument why she shouldn’t be fined for driving in a Costa Mesa Freeway car-pool lane with no one in her passenger seats.

When she was stopped by a California Highway Patrol officer last October, the 29-year-old Fullerton woman told him she had a passenger--her 5-month-old fetus. A Central Municipal Court judge laughingly agreed with her, at least enough to dismiss her $52 traffic ticket Tuesday. But the California Highway Patrol isn’t buying it.

“We will continue to issue citations to anyone driving alone in the car-pool lane,” said CHP spokesman Paul Caldwell in Santa Ana.

Even if the driver is pregnant? Yes, he said.

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But Yasger, who is due to deliver her third child in mid-March, said cheerfully Wednesday that she isn’t worried about being stopped in the car-pool lane.

“I’ll just wave my (newspaper) clippings about my case,” she said. “If that doesn’t work, then I’ll go back to court.”

By law, only vehicles with at least two people inside may use the car-pool lanes that run the 12-mile length of the Costa Mesa Freeway. The county Transportation Commission set up the lanes a year ago to encourage car-pooling among commuters.

Yasger, who works for a commercial leasing office in Costa Mesa, knew that using the car-pool lane could cut her driving time almost in half. And she decided that she was entitled to use it because she had read that a five-month fetus is considered to be alive.

“I knew I would probably be stopped,” Yasger said. “But I was convinced I was in the right.”

At first, Yasger called both the Santa Ana police and the CHP, but no one could tell her whether her theory was correct.

So, when she was stopped in October by CHP Officer Tim Gyll near the MacArthur Boulevard exit in Santa Ana, Yasger made her pitch. “I wasn’t trying to pull one over on him. . . . I really believed there were two people in my car.”

Pregnancy Noted on Ticket

Gyll cited her anyway, but he did write “Five months pregnant” on her ticket.

A determined Yasger went to Central Municipal Court in Santa Ana, where she stood in line for four hours to file her “not guilty” plea and post a $52 bond, the same price as the fine.

Yasger said her husband, Tom, supported her, but even he thought she would probably lose in court.

Next Yasger appeared for her trial on Tuesday before Judge Randell L. Wilkinson. The cases were called in alphabetical order. By the time the judge got to the Y’s, Yasger was the only woman left in the courtroom beside the court clerk.

“I argued my case, and everyone in the courtroom started laughing,” she said. “The judge was trying to remain professional, but he was laughing too.”

Citation Dismissed

Finally, Wilkinson said he was dismissing the citation “in the interest of justice” and told Yasger he thought that she really believed what she was saying.

Wednesday, she had to take off from work to handle all the media inquiries from television, radio and newspaper reporters.

“I had no idea it would cause such a stir,” she said.

Yasger readily recognizes that the car-pool lanes were intended to encourage people to drive to work together to reduce traffic and not for people in her situation.

Nonetheless, Yasger points out, the law states only that there must be at least two people in the vehicle to qualify for the car-pool lanes. “Someone with a child in the car can use the car-pool lanes without violating the law. It’s really no different for a pregnant woman.”

Yasger said Wednesday that she sympathizes with the dilemma her case could pose for CHP officers. “I’m sure you will have women stuffing pillows inside their shirts. . . . I can just see a police officer poking a woman’s stomach to see if she is telling the truth,” she joked.

Still she insists that the principle involved is an important one, although had she lost in court, she would have stopped using the car-pool lanes.

“If I were not a working woman, maybe I wouldn’t have thought much about it,” she said. “But when a pregnant woman also has to work, it’s important for her to stand up on matters like this. . . . I think it’s important that I not back down now.”


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