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November 12, 2002

Tribute draws safety fears

From: San Antonio Express News, TX
Nov. 12, 2002

By Karisa King
San Antonio Express-News

A San Antonio man briefly captured the interest of Washington authorities on Monday after he parked his car and a homemade 100-gallon fuel tank near the U.S. Capitol.

A police officer spotted the contraption at about noon and asked firefighters to examine it, said Capitol Police spokeswoman Jessica Gissubel.

"It struck the officer's attention, obviously," Gissubel said. "It had a 'flammable' sign on it, which was also a key to officers."

The driver, 54-year-old Richard H. Barnes Jr., informed authorities that he rigged the tank to his Mazda 626 so that he could travel nonstop from San Antonio to Washington.

Barnes, who according to his family has a hearing impairment, used a pad of paper to explain to police that he made the trip as a Veterans Day honor to U.S. soldiers and his deceased father, a former prisoner of war.

Barnes was not charged, but authorities seized his car and the gas tank and issued a $50 fine, Gissubel said.

"He was very cooperative. His intentions were good," she said.

The car also was a hazard because the trailer hauling the gas tank was screwed directly to the back of the car, which had no rear bumper. An electric current was running from the car battery to the trailer lights, a D.C. fire and EMS spokesman told the Associated Press.

The spokesman, Alan Etter, told the wire service that Barnes' safe arrival in the capital was "miraculous."

Barnes' mother, Hedwig Barnes, 76, said her son left San Antonio at about 4 a.m. Sunday and planned to stay in Washington briefly before traveling to New York, where he was to stay with her cousin.

"He wanted to prove something to himself, that he could drive there and not stop overnight," she said. "He's very patriotic. He's very proud of his father."

Gissubel said authorities would release the car if Barnes can correct the safety problems.

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