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She Has World at Her Not-So-Fleet Feet

The LAPD is under fire here and abroad for ticketing an elderly woman when she failed to make it across a street before the signal turned.

April 14, 2006|Amanda Covarrubias and Cynthia H. Cho | Times Staff Writers

First, 82-year-old Mayvis Coyle got fined. Then she got famous.

She got a $114 jaywalking ticket and now people the world over know her story about why she thinks the motorcycle cop did her wrong.

Editorial writers from Sacramento to Scotland have rushed to Coyle's defense. Strangers in distant lands are rising to support her. Camera crews show up at her Sunland trailer unannounced, wanting Coyle to repeat the story once again.

And she doesn't even have a phone.

As Coyle tells it, she was doing her best to shuffle across Foothill Boulevard, with her cane in one hand, groceries in the other, when the light changed from "Walk" to "Don't Walk".

Enter an LAPD motorcycle officer, who gave her the ticket, which she is challenging in court.

Her case has become more than just a traffic dispute; to her supporters, it's about the rights of senior citizens and pedestrians everywhere.

"STICK YOUR FINE," Scotland's Glasgow Daily Record said.

The San Fernando Police Department got so many calls and e-mails from people angry about the ticket, it sent out a news release saying the Los Angeles Police Department, not the San Fernando cops, gave Coyle the citation.

Sitting outside her trailer Thursday, Coyle said she was stunned by the turn of events.

"This is the first ticket I ever got in my life ... for trying to cross the street," Coyle said. "I always try to obey the laws of the land."

Coyle lives alone in Sunland's Monte Vista Mobile Estates during the winter and in her hometown of Sedalia, Colo., in the Rocky Mountains during the summer. A retired hairdresser and onetime rancher, she's facing the media in her trademark orange straw hat and Indian beads around her neck.

Because her trailer lacks a phone, the park's office manager has been taking scores of messages on her behalf over the last week and showing TV news crews to Coyle's place.

An 80-year-old woman from Canada sent her a letter of support with a $20 bill. A representative from Ellen DeGeneres' talk show called Thursday, trying to book the great-great-grandmother on her TV show.

"I didn't want all this publicity," said Coyle. "But I'm not objecting to being used if it gets the lights changed and gets respect for the elderly.... I think people can see I'm being sincere," she continued. "I'm speaking for all those seniors who can't get across the street."

It was Feb. 15 when Coyle was crossing Foothill Boulevard and Woodward Avenue after a trip to the grocery store.

Coyle said she was crossing the intersection on a "Walk" signal, but was only past mid-street when it changed.

That's when a motorcycle officer rode up and began repeatedly shouting at her, "You're obstructing the flow of traffic!" she said.

"I don't like being talked to like I'm a 6-year-old," she added.

Coyle said she tried to explain to him that she couldn't make it across in time because of her age, but he refused to listen.

"He should have gotten off his motorcycle and helped me cross when he saw me struggling," Coyle said.

But the Los Angeles Police Department said the officer saw her begin to cross the street after the "Don't Walk" sign began flashing, signaling it was about to change.

"While many people may look at that and say the LAPD should have a greater heart and should care more that this was an 82-year-old woman, our desire is that this 82-year-old woman, and all citizens of L.A., conduct themselves in a manner that is safe," said Michel Moore, deputy chief of operations at the department's Valley Bureau.

Moore noted that an elderly woman was struck and killed by a car in the area just eight days earlier.

LAPD officials acknowledged that citing Coyle for jaywalking has not been popular. The department has received a flood of cards and e-mails from Alaska, Indiana, Texas, Tennessee and elsewhere.

Some protesters have mistakenly sent their missives to the San Fernando Police Department, a smaller agency that patrols the nearby city.

San Fernando Police Chief Anthony Alba said the angry letters have come from across the U.S. -- mostly from seniors.

One senior from Rochester, N.Y., wrote that he was "disgusted" and "astounded" by the citation.

A letter writer in the Los Angeles Daily News, which reported the story earlier this week, questioned why Coyle was ticketed when many immigrant rights protesters were not.

At Los Angeles City Hall, Councilwoman Wendy Greuel is calling on the city Transportation Department to reexamine how long the agency sets "Walk" signals.

John Fisher, assistant general manager for the Department of Transportation, estimated that Coyle would have had about 27 seconds to cross Foothill Boulevard before the signal began to flash. Some intersections -- such as those near senior centers -- are modified to give pedestrians more time to get across.

Fisher said his agency would study the intersection where Coyle was ticketed next week.

Greuel believes a more sweeping study is needed.

"We've had calls from Canada and all kinds of places," she said. "I think it's because everyone pictures their own mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle trying to cross the street and they have a picture of that."

Coyle is fighting her ticket in court. If she loses, the owner of her mobile home park gave her the money to cover it.

Friends at the mobile home park, however, hope she wins her case and that the incident forces the city to help pedestrians more.

"I think [she] may stir things up enough to get things done," said Darwin Benjamin, a retired stuntman who once doubled for Chuck Norris.

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