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A Ticket To Retirement

Officer Ron Zeigler, Rock Hill's infamous traffic cop, will hang up his helmet at the end of October

It's estimated that Police Officer Ronald Zeigler has issued about 150,000 traffic tickets over the course of his 26-year career in Rock Hill. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
October 02, 2009
A Rock Hill legend is nearing retirement - a fact that will sadden some, while others will, no doubt, heave a sigh of relief.

Officer Ronald Zeigler, the bane of many a motorist's existence, will hang up his helmet, park his motorcycle and assume the mantle of retirement come Oct. 20.

During his 26 years of eyeing the streets of Rock Hill, Zeigler has issued an estimated 150,000 tickets. Zeigler wrote anywhere from 20 to 60 tickets a day, with an average of 420 a month, according to Rock Hill Police Chief Paul Arnett,

While some think of Zeigler as Rock Hill's "money maker," or refer to his bailiwick as a "speed trap," Zeigler is quick to defend his actions.

"A speed trap is where you deliberately lead someone into doing something wrong," he said. "We don't lead anyone. You made the decision and you're paying the consequences by being stopped and getting a summons.

"As far as being a money maker, you could stop that by not speeding!" he added.

Zeigler decided to become a police officer as a teenager growing up in Coffeyville, Kan., after watching police handle an incident in which an out-of-control stock car crashed through a barrier. Several bystanders were killed. His love of motorcycles and talking to people led to his career as a traffic cop.

His twin brother, Donald, also became a police officer, having retired a few years ago as an Illinois State Trooper.

Zeigler started his law enforcement career in 1971 working for Brentwood. In 1983, he came to Rock Hill where he, through no fault of his own, put the city on the regional map as a place where speeding motorists could expect to pay for their ignorance of speed limits.

Officer Ron Zeigler gets an affectionate lick in the face from a pit bull pup. The pup came into Zeigler's care from an Illinois shelter, which was not going to put the animal up for adoption. Zeigler has since found a St. Louis area home for the little guy. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
Did Zeigler ever cut a speeding motorist a break?

"People think I never did, but I did," he said with a laugh. "Maybe one out of 10. I never have a reason; sometimes it's just a feeling, something that comes out of a conversation.

"On the other hand, you're out there to enforce the speed laws and slow cars down to prevent injuries and fatalities," he said. "You have to harden yourself because if you feel too sorry for the motorist, you're not going to accomplish what you're supposed to."

Of course, Zeigler has heard every excuse imaginable from motorists wanting to ward away the dreaded citation. Among the best?

"'I'm on my way to the hospital to deliver my baby,'" Zeigler said, rolling his eyes. "She even told me what hospital she was going to. Then, I followed her and she went home. I went to her door and gave her a ticket."

Motorists often claim ignorance of the speed limit, Zeigler said.

"They'll say they didn't see a sign, which means they haven't been looking for six miles. Or they tell me that where they live it's 55," he said. "Then they tell me 30 miles per hour is too slow for Manchester Road, so I tell them to take it up with the Missouri Department of Transportation since Manchester is a state road."

Cell phone use and texting while driving is a big problem. Zeigler wants Missouri to adopt the same law as in Illinois, which prohibits all cell phone and texting use while driving.

"Last week, I saw eight out of 10 drivers talking on the phone," he said. "The state is headed in the right direction but, in my opinion, the state stopped short by making it 21 years and under. Why, when you turn 21, do you get so smart you can use a cell phone and text while operating a vehicle?"

Besides his duties as a motorcycle officer, Zeigler has been active for 20 years in the March of Dimes Bikers for Babies. He coordinated routes for the annual 62-mile motorcycle ride through the St. Louis area.

Rock Hill Mayor Julie Morgan said he will be missed but "always be remembered as the standard bearer of preserving the safety for this community.

"In the 26 years of service with the city of Rock Hill, Officer Zeigler has become an icon of this community that many have come to recognize far and wide in their rear view mirrors," Morgan said. "While many may complain of his duties, very few dispute his professionalism and courtesy in carrying out this often thankless endeavor.

"His absence will be felt on every stretch of road in Rock Hill that he has so diligently patrolled for so long," the mayor added.

Arnett said it may take two people to replace Zeigler.

"He's had numerous Officer of the Month commendations for the Rock Hill Police Department, not only for traffic, but for investigations of other felonies," Arnett said. "He's been Rock Hill Officer of the Year five times, and his daily ticket output is far and above any other Rock Hill officer whose averages are five tickets daily."

He was named 2000 Traffic Officer of the Millennium, and was selected State of Missouri City Traffic Officer of the Year in 1985. The state award was presented by Cardinal legend Stan Musial.

"That was special," he said.

Zeigler is looking forward to retiring so he can spend more time with his wife, Earline, and the couple's three children and five grandchildren.

Earline hopes her husband finds a hobby.

"He's loved his job and he's tried to be faithful to his work. He has a work ethic that most people could not compete with. He enjoys church and his grandkids, and one of these days he'll go fishing," Earline said.

Anyone who would like to send a note, a card, or maybe old pictures of Zeigler can do so to P.O. Box 31071, Des Peres, Mo. 63131.

Well-wishers can meet Zeigler in person on Saturday, Oct. 3. Zeigler has been honored to serve as the grand marshall of the annual parade held in conjunction with the Rock Hill Fall Festival. The parade begins at 10 a.m. This year's festival will be held from noon to 5 p.m. at Stroup Field.

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