Trial begins for man with religious plates

An elderly Bedford County man who eschews the state’s traffic laws on religious grounds went on trial Tuesday for resisting arrest and harassment of a state trooper who two years ago forcibly removed him from his car after a routine traffic stop.

A Blair County jury watched an hourlong video from the police cruiser’s dashboard camera that showed Trooper Thomas Laskey during the evening of July 18, 2011, approaching a green Ford he stopped for traveling 70 mph in a 50 mph construction zone on I-99.

Inside the car was 76-year-old Don Ralph Ickes of Fishertown, who refused to roll down his window and hand the trooper his driver’s license and automobile registration card.

The officer was polite and nonchalant at first, but as time went on, Ickes would “flash” what appeared to be a Florida driver’s license up to the window, then withdraw it.

A closer look at the vehicle’s license plate showed it to be a fictitious one issued to him by The Kingdom of Heaven.

The trooper said at first the plate looked like any other, but in the location where the name of state is usually displayed, it read Basileia Ouranos, which means Kingdom of God.

The plate is not recognized as legitimate in any state, Laskey testified.

Laskey was concerned for his safety because after exiting I-99, Ickes turned onto Route 220 before suddenly turning left onto Greenfield Township’s Mill Road and then driving onto a property that was heavily dotted with trees and a large barn.

The trooper called for backup, not knowing why Ickes was uncooperative or what he had on his mind.

Greenfield Township Police Sgt. Barry Fry responded as did a trooper from Bedford and two state police criminal investigators from Hollidaysburg, including Craig Grassmyer, who recognized Ickes.

Laskey finally went to the passenger side of the Ickes’ vehicle, smashed the window, opened the door and pulled him out of the vehicle.

When the arrest was completed, Laskey said he began to transport Ickes to the state police barracks in Hollidaysburg, but on the way, Ickes began to complain.

Ickes said his arms and shoulders were uncomfortable because of the handcuffs that had been placed on him, Laskey said. Eventually, Ickes complained he was experiencing chest pains.

The video showed the trooper put on his emergency lights, activated his siren and sped up, quickly detouring from Hollidaysburg to Nason Hospital in Roaring Spring.

Ickes was treated and released from the hospital that night, Laskey said.

The prosecution played several minutes of the harrowing ride along Route 36 into Roaring Spring to demonstrate that Laskey was concerned about Ickes and was acting in a professional manner.

As Laskey described the final moments of the arrest, Ickes began to sob, putting his hands over his eyes.”

Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron called a recess to allow Ickes to compose himself and to meet with his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jason Imler.

The jury heard testimony on Tuesday about the resisting arrest charge and today is expected to hear again from Laskey as he describes Ickes’ actions in the weeks after the arrest, in which the suspect allegedly called Laskey’s mother, phoned Laskey at the state police barracks and filed various civil charges in the case.

Assistant District Attorney Derek Elensky said the Ickes case was about a man who doesn’t believe the law applies to him.

“The law applies to each of us,” he told the jury.

Elensky emphasized that Ickes simply would not comply with Laskey’s requests to give him his driver’s license and registration card.

“Nobody is above the law. Everybody has to follow the law,” he said.

Imler said the defense has “a simple view of the case.” Ickes was frightened that night as he was being tracked by the trooper.

“He was afraid. He was only trying to protect himself,” he said, explaining why Ickes did not comply with the trooper’s requests.

On cross-examination, Imler focused on Ickes’ reaction when Laskey entered his vehicle. The defense claimed Ickes “cowered” against the driver’s side door with his arms tight against his chest.

He asked Laskey if troopers are trained in ways to deal with frightened motorists. The trooper said he had no such training at the police academy.

Imler also pointed out that when Ickes was initially stopped and inside his car, he called 911 and reported that he was frightened.

Laskey repeatedly said Ickes did not act like he was frightened and he said he “never threatened Ickes in any way.”

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.