JENNINGS, La. – A South Carolina family passing through Jennings on their way to Texas was pulled over, hauled off to a church, "tried" for not stopping to enjoy local hospitality and "sentenced" to gumbo, presents and a tour.
"We do this every year at Christmastime to some unsuspecting out-of-town person," said Gayle Jones, a member of the Jennings Optimist Club, which has made it part of a more than 30-year holiday tradition.
Neither Leonard nor Lori Pavia of Greer, S.C., could figure out why the deputy had pulled them over as they headed to see friends in McAllen, Texas.
"I couldn't think of anything that I did wrong. I knew I wasn't speeding," Leonard Pavia said. Lori Pavia said her first reaction was to make sure that Sienna, 10, and Dakota, 12, had their seat belts on. They did.
Deputy Terry Guillory, who pulled the family over, said he spent several hours Monday morning on Interstate 10, waiting to find the perfect family to stop.
"I asked them if they'd like to be the guests of our town," Guillory said.
Leonard Pavia said the family left South Carolina on Sunday morning and had spent the night in Baton Rouge before continuing on their trip to Texas.
Assistant District Attorney Stacey Naquin was prosecutor in a mock trial at Immanuel Lutheran Church and local attorney David Marcantel was the defense attorney. Judge Daniel Stretcher sentenced the family to enjoy bowls of chicken-and-sausage gumbo, gift baskets from area merchants and a tour of Jennings.
Jones said she has met some interesting people over the years.
One year, they hosted members of an international parachute team.
"We had one young girl with her dog who was on the way to Florida to get married," Jones said. "And we've had a couple from New York who was headed to Mexico to spend Christmas with family."
"It's just a community service project we do each year to bring people in and show them our hospitality," member Leonra Dupuis said.