CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As many as 200,000 people are expected to travel to the New River Gorge Bridge on Saturday for Bridge Day, and while the bridge is open for BASE jumping and sight-seeing, the police in nearby Gauley Bridge are almost certain to be looking for anyone daring enough to drive through town at 29 mph in a 25 mph zone.
Greg Chaney, owner of Chaney Insurance Agency in Montgomery, said that when he runs motor-vehicle records searches to give potential customers rate quotes, tickets written by Gauley Bridge police for drivers going just a few miles per hour over the speed limit are what he sees most.
"I went up to Gauley Bridge one day and came into town, and my son said, 'Wow, look at those new police cars, Dodge Challengers.' I said yeah, that's why I'm driving so slow.' " Chaney said. "It's just harassment."
Gauley Bridge police gave out an average of 19 speeding tickets on Bridge Day the past three years, according to the city's records. That's far above their usual average of four per day, according to state figures.
That number doesn't include other types of tickets written by the officers, such as riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Last year, they wrote 27 total tickets. The year before, they wrote 35.
Almost all of those tickets were written by either Shawn Whipkey, the town's police chief, or his brother, Heath. The two previously worked in Summersville and were responsible for 12,319 speeding tickets in Summersville from July 2000 to March 2003, according to city records.
In the past three and a half years, Gauley Bridge police have issued more than 5,000 speeding tickets -- more than any other city or town in West Virginia, according to figures from the state Division of Motor Vehicles.
"They follow you around down there," Chaney said. "I know it sounds like Mayberry. . . . It sounds like Barney Fife following you down the street and waiting for you to make a wrong turn and go over the speed limit. They always pull over nice cars, they think they can get the money [for the ticket] from them."
Brian Parsons, the city's attorney, said overtime recently was cut for the town's police officers and other personnel. He said complaints about police issuing excessive tickets weren't the reason for the decision, but they were a factor.
"There is a renewed emphasis on making certain that the law is applied fairly and equally." Parsons said. "If overtime needs to be paid, it'll be paid. . . . There's no sense in having overtime to generate revenue."
Parsons said it is important to note that it's not the town's decision on who gets cited or arrested for a given offense.
"The town hasn't ordered [police] to increase or decrease tickets or do anything," he said. "What the town wants is the law applied fairly and equally."
Shawn Whipkey and Gauley Bridge Mayor Stephanie Fout did not return phone calls last week.