Oh, Deere: Woman busted for driving lawn tractor in road

Jessica Pierce

When Ontario County Deputy Michael Rago turned on his flashing lights to stop Kimberly Clinesmith as she motored down a country road in Canandaigua early one morning last month, he wasn’t worrying about a high-speed chase.

Clinesmith was headed to work in the wee hours of the July 9 morning on her John Deere lawnmower.

She had just made it up a knoll on the green, 54-inch cut mower when she found herself — and her unusual mode of transportation — under a police spotlight.

“All the sudden these lights come up and (Rago) spotlights me,” Clinesmith, 45, said. “I thought, ‘You got to be kidding me. They’re pulling me over on my lawnmower? No way.’ I just could not believe it.”

Clinesmith, who has a suspended driver’s license, wound up charged with a misdemeanor: aggravated unlicensed operation. The John Deere was impounded.

“This doesn’t happen very often,” Ontario County Undersheriff David Tillman said about lawnmower traffic stops.

In July 2007, sheriff’s deputies in Lyons, Wayne County, stopped Floyd Sincerbeaux, 29, on his Cub Cadet lawn tractor. He was charged with driving while intoxicated, first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation and ticketed with unlicensed operation and driving an unregistered, uninspected and uninsured motor vehicle.

He told a deputy he was on his way to a relative’s house in Geneva, several miles away. He later pleaded guilty and was fined $500 plus a court surcharge.

After Sincerbeaux’s arrest, Wayne County sheriff’s Lt. Robert Hetzke said when it comes to the law, it’s simple: “If it’s used for a mode of transportation, they can be charged.”

But Clinesmith wasn’t driving drunk. She was using her mower to get to and from her job milking cows at a dairy farm on Bliss Road, a half-mile from her house on Woolhouse Road.

Her driver’s license is suspended because of old, unanswered traffic tickets dating back some 15 years. She said she has tried to take care of the tickets, but clerks in the local courts in Yates County — where she was ticketed — told her they don’t keep records dating back that many years. The clerks said they would find them, Clinesmith said, but, “I haven’t heard anything since.”

Walking to work is out. Clinesmith said she has chronic back pain from tendonitits. After a quarter-mile of trudging, she said she is in excruciating pain.

The trusty John Deere, she said, seemed like a fine alternative. Besides, she does her job in the wee hours of the morning — 1:30 to about 5:30 a.m. — when it’s rare to see even one car cross her path.

Police say she was breaking the law by driving with a suspended license on a public highway and posing a safety threat to herself and others by heading out onto a dark road on a mower without tail-lights.

“You can’t go out there with the motoring public just because of the size (of the mower) and it’s not designed for any type of highway travel. It travels at such a slow speed,” said Tillman.

But Clinesmith insists she was well off the roadway, driving along the shoulder. The John Deere’s headlights were cutting through the darkness ahead, and a slow-moving vehicle sign with reflectors was hanging from the back. She also said the road on which she was stopped has, at most, a handful of vehicles traveling on it in the overnight hours.

Just a few weeks earlier, Clinesmith had been pulled over for driving her pick-up truck without a license. “I shouldn’t have been driving, I know that,” she acknowledges.

Before she was sent to the county jail that time, she appeared in East Bloomfield Town Court before Judge William P. Morsheimer. According to Tillman, the judge told Clinesmith she could not “operate anything but a bicycle on a public highway.”

Clinesmith said, “He did mention the bicycle, but I still didn’t think my lawnmower was illegal. You don’t have to register it. You don’t need insurance on it. I wasn’t going to endanger anybody going to work.”

She added, “Then again, how did they know I was driving my lawnmower back and forth to work unless they were watching me?”

Clinesmith is scheduled to appear in Canandaigua Town Court tonight. She’s hoping her attorney, Jim Miller, will get the latest charge dropped, or at least reduced.

She says she’s not going to drive her lawnmower — or any other motorized vehicle — on public roads, and she plans to pay any fines and do whatever she needs to do to get her license back.

Still, the traffic stop has left her upset. She says her husband now drives her to work and her boss sometimes gives her rides home.

And, she said, since the arrest she has on a few occasions spotted deputies parked near the farm where she works. She drives trucks and tractors on the private property — as allowed by law — and wonders if they’re waiting to see if she’ll drive onto the public road.

“This is a borderline between harassment and stalking,” Clinesmith said.

Early one morning last week, she said she “acted” like she was going to drive a truck off the farm onto the road while officers watched from a parked patrol car. But it was all a bluff; she pulled into a field at the last minute.

The officers turned on their lights, as if prepared to stop her, she said, but when they realized what had happened they waved and drove off.

Tillman didn’t know if deputies working the overnight shift have been keeping tabs on Clinesmith. To him, it’s simple: “If she drove that lawnmower across the field to get from her house to the farm, that’d be fine. She was clearly told by the judge that she’s not to operate motor vehicles on the highway.”

Contact Jessica Pierce at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 250, or at jpierce@messengerpostmedia.com.