Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Truck scatters antiwar protest

Driver puts rig on sidewalk near demonstrators

By William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A truck driver from South Fairmount was arrested Monday after he drove toward a group of anti-war protesters with his tractor-trailer rig in the West End.

"It (the semi cab) stopped about 10 feet from the nearest protester," Larry Schartman, one of the about 40 people who were participating in a "Peace in Iraq" rally, said Monday night. "Thank God nobody got hurt."

Police charged James Watters, 49, with aggravated menacing, inducing panic and reckless operation in the incident that occurred about 6 p.m. on the Ezzard Charles Drive bridge over Interstate 75.

According to the police report, an officer observed Watters drive his truck onto the sidewalk of the pedestrian walkway toward a large group of protestors causing them "to run in fear of being hit."

"It was an antiwar demonstration. We were holding up signs so the people on the interstate could see them," said Mary Ann Reese, 46, of East Walnut Hills. "There were 30 or 40 of us standing there holding our signs and I turned around and he was on the sidewalk coming towards us leaning on his horn.

"The general prevailing sentiment was that some of us were going to get hit. One person was in a wheelchair, so he really had to scatter. It was frightening. It (the semi) did stop before he hit anyone."

Protesters said the driver also appeared to be making an obscene gesture.

Schartman, a 50-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, said the demonstration had been a peaceful event until the truck appeared.

"I heard the horn blowing," he said. "He was up on the sidewalk. It stopped about 10 feet from the nearest protestor. It was really peaceful until that moment."

Police officers who were nearby responded to the scene quickly and arrested the truck driver.

"I'm a Vietnam veteran," the Mariemont resident said. "I think I've earned the right to stand out there with other citizens and oppose the war."

Watters was taken to the Justice Center.

E-mail bweathers@enquirer.com

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