By Jordan Cohen
Kyle Presjak likely will have the distinction of traveling the farthest distance to pay a speeding fine that led to the suspension of his driver’s license in 2010.
The former Cortland resident flew here from his home in Splendora, Texas, and walked into the First United Methodist Church on North Park Avenue here Thursday morning to surrender to law enforcement and clear his record.
“My aunt is a public defender, and when she told me about the Ohio Fugitive Safe Surrender Program, I knew I had to do this,” said Presjak, 21, whose mother, Sabrina, accompanied him to Warren. “Now, I feel like I’ve gotten my life back because without my driver’s license, I can’t get a job.”
He wound up paying a $150 fine after spending nearly $500 to fly here from Texas, settle with the law and get his driving privileges restored. “It’s worth it,” Presjak said.
The three-day program that began Thursday is designed to convince fugitives who have failed to pay fines for nonviolent misdemeanors and low-level felonies such as minor drug possession to surrender to authorities at the church.
In addition to the Warren church, the Church of the Nazarene on North Market Street, Lisbon, is serving in the same capacity in Columbiana County.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who initiated the program, said he believes a “faith-based atmosphere” will make it easier for those named in warrants to surrender.
There are 5,000 outstanding warrants in Trumbull County and 3,000 in Columbiana County, according to DeWine.
“This is not an amnesty, but we guarantee that those who turn themselves in will be treated respectfully,” the attorney general said. By early morning, the Safe Surrender Program was yielding results.
“In less than two hours, I’ve had nine people come in to pay child support, settle license suspensions or pay drug fines,” said Trumbull Deputy Juan Freeman. The deputies sat with their computers at a church entrance for processing, while the Bureau of Motor Vehicles sent representatives to help resolve license suspensions and reinstatements. Legal services were also available and several social service agencies offered counseling.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general said the office has budgeted $13,000 to reimburse law enforcement in Trumbull County and $4,000 for Columbiana County.
Those who surrendered went before Warren Municipal Judge Thomas Gysegem, who presided over brief hearings in a separate church office. He did not have to put anyone in jail.
“Because of this special program, I’ve waived the costs,” Judge Gysegem said. “Nearly all of the people I’ve seen have come to pay old fines.”
One of them, an unpaid fine for disorderly conduct, dated back to 1998. The woman named in the warrant wound up paying a $300 fine.
The program has been advertised as the best way to get a second chance, and Presjak said he could not agree more. “I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough,” he said as he shook hands with DeWine before leaving the church. “You’ve got me on my feet again.”
Based on the response, a few others feel the same way.
According to figures from the attorney general’s office, 21 people surrendered in Warren on Thursday, however 10 of them never went before the judge. Jeffrey Oleksiak, Safe Surrender coordinator, said none of the 10 were named in warrants, so they were sent home after meeting with BMV representatives. In Lisbon, 10 people turned themselves in.
The program continues today and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at both churches.