Maybe al-Qaeda should start recruiting in Williamson County. Just over a week after a Brentwood driver dragged an airport cop nearly 400 yards before wrecking her car in Belle Meade and winding up on the local news, an angry Franklin woman driving a cream-colored Mercedes struck an officer in the leg. The latest suburban perpetrator, 39-year-old Deirdre Russell, later threatened to sue both the airport and the officer.
Traffic enforcement officer Ross Starnes was writing Russell a ticket July 31 when she put the car in drive and swiped him in the knee, which had recently been surgically repaired. Russell had been idling her car by the loading area, but Starnes didn’t see anyone with luggage preparing to board her vehicle. So he told her to move her car. According to the police report, Russell became “upset” and “irate” at the officer.
Earlier, he had told her to depart from the 10-minute parking area, after she stayed past the limit. She got angry then too, but eventually left and circled back around. This time, she wouldn’t go without a fuss. While Russell was idling in the loading area, her friend was nearby giving directions to some travelers. Russell thought the officer should cut her some slack and allow her to wait just a little bit longer. He wouldn’t. She then told Starnes that she wouldn’t move her car until her friend was ready to leave.
For most people, complying with the burdensome rules at the airport is just a part of life these days. But Russell wasn’t having any of it. According to the police report, after Russell refused to move her car, Starnes called a police officer and began writing Russell a parking citation. And then it happened. He stepped in front of the car and she tried to drive away, striking him slightly in the knee with her bumper. He stumbled backward and was later taken to the hospital. Starnes hasn’t been back on duty since; he is currently working an administrative job while his knee recovers.
“Obviously, he can’t stand on his feet all day,” says Allison McAfee, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority.
After Starnes was struck, airport police officers came to the scene, interviewed witnesses and obtained a statement from a peeved Russell. Most of the bystanders said that while Starnes was warning Russell to move her car, he behaved professionally. It was Russell who appeared agitated. No one said definitively that she was trying to run him over, only that she was hoping to drive away to elude a parking citation.
Witness Jerry Dent, who was just three feet away from the commotion, told police that Russell was yelling at the officer and being rude. “She was upset, but he was just doing his job,” Dent tells the Scene. “I don’t believe she intentionally hit him; I think she was trying to leave the scene quickly without getting a ticket.”
Another bystander told airport police that Starnes was “polite and professional” during the incident.
Meanwhile, the friend Russell picked up at the airport told authorities that she repeatedly warned Russell to “leave it alone and don’t do it.” She said that she thought that if Russell drove away, he could claim that she hit him, because he was close enough to the car. In any case, the car did swipe the officereven Russell admitted that to authorities.
Not that she helped her case by talking to the airport police. In her statement, she basically admitted that she tried to drive away while the officer was writing her a ticket, but he stepped in front of the car to block her from leaving. According to the police report, after she threatened litigation, she asked the officers if “we could blame this on PMS and be done with the incident.” (Only a Williamson County resident would threaten to sue someone they hit with their Mercedes.) She also claimed that airport traffic officers deliberately sought her out because of the car she drives, a 1989 Mercedes 420 SEL.
In any case, authorities later charged her with simple assault and reckless endangerment. Her court date is Sept. 4. Starnes, meanwhile, is exploring litigation as well and has hired an attorney. Both Starnes and his lawyer, Jerry Gonzalez, declined comment.
A few incidents aside, most drivers treat officers courteously at the airportprobably more so than they do a regular patrol cop. “Eighty to 85 percent of the people never cause any trouble,” says McAfee, the spokesperson. “Unfortunately, from time to time we deal with people who are having a bad day or have other stresses or challenges in their life that bleed over into the way they interact with our officers.”
Deirdre Russell didn’t return repeated calls for comment, but her outgoing message at her home seemed to say it all. “We all fall down,” she says toward the end of the recording in what seemed to be a reference to last month’s ordeal. “It’s the getting back up that really counts.”
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