Capitol & State

Rep. Rich Wills recalls flap over failure to ticket Gov. Evans' speeding car

When 31-year-old Idaho State Trooper Rich Wills pulled over a car traveling 61 miles per hour in a 35 mph construction zone in 1977, he didn't notice that the license plate simply read, "1."

At the wheel on I-84 near Hammett that spring day was Steve Leroy, Gov. John Evans' press secretary, who was rushing to get Evans to a speech in Twin Falls.

"When I realized it was No. 1 and my boss, I thought, 'Oh criminy!'" Wills said, recalling the moment after Evans' death Tuesday at 89. "I said, 'You've got to slow it down.' I chewed him out and sent him on his way."

Retired from ISP, Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, was elected to the Legislature in 2002 and chairs the House Judiciary Committee.

His taking it easy on the governor's spokesman — who also happened to be the younger brother of then-Ada County Prosecutor Dave Leroy — didn't escape the notice of Lewiston Tribune reporter Jay Shelledy.

The problem was Wills had written a ticket to Craig Jensen of Twin Falls, who was going 60 in the same spot on the same day, May 24. The story of injustice made headlines across Idaho and was picked up on national wire services.

"All of a sudden, everyone's calling for my resignation," Leroy recalled.

Evans didn't want Leroy to go, but did suggest he make a contribution equivalent to what his fine would have been. So Leroy donated $32.50 to the American Cancer Society.

In an effort to deflate the controversy, Leroy also produced bumper stickers and distributed to reporters. They read: "I Passed Steve Leroy. Stay Alive at 55."

Jensen couldn't convince Magistrate Richard Smith that he should also get a break. He wound up paying a $25 fine.

But Jensen said he was "disgusted and disappointed the way the governor and his press aide handled this whole thing....I felt they would come out and support me, saying, 'We don't feel this is right.' That would have made Evans look like a hero."

Wills said he and Evans shared a wagon train ride during the 1990 Idaho Centennial celebration and reminisced about Ticketgate. "We laughed a lot about the incident," Wills said.

Leroy went onto a long career in public relations, working in the White House for Presidents Carter and Clinton, as a spokesman for McDonald's and at the U.S. Department of Energy. He now operates a Boise-based consulting firm, Steve Leroy and Associates, that advises candidates across the country.

Older brother Dave, a Republican, was elected attorney general in 1978 and lieutenant governor in 1982. He narrowly lost his bid to succeed Evans in 1986, falling 3,600 votes short of Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus.