In memoriam: Walter Keck played ‘Barney Fife’ during Cruisin’ The Coast
D'IBERVILLE -- Classic car owners who are participating in this year's Cruisin' the Coast are urged to use extra caution when driving the streets of D'Iberville or they may get pulled over by one of the most notorious lawmen of all time -- Mayberry, North Carolina's own Deputy Barney Fife.
D'Iberville police officer Walter Keck has been portraying the fictional character since 2008 and he has become an integral part of Cruisin' the Coast.
"The fire department found an old car," Keck said. "They took three vehicles and made it into a '51 Ford police cruiser. It has a blue light and a sirens and everything. People who come here for Cruisin' the Coast come back year after year to get pulled over by Barney Fife. I have one man from Texas who always looks me up. He has several photos of us through the years."
Once the classics are pulled over, Keck, dressed in tan uniform similar to the one worn by Don Knotts in "The Andy Griffith Show," writes the driver a "ticket."
"When I pull the cars over, I give them what they think is a citation," he said. "But actually, it's a welcome package from the City of D'Iberville with coupons that can be used at local restaurants. Then, they want me to put them in handcuffs and take a picture with them."
DPD Chief Wayne Payne said Heck's performance is a now a part of his department's community outreach services.
"We started this program several years ago," Payne said. "The city had this old car and when I became chief, we decided to take over the project. We used it as a community relations tool. Then Walter started dressing up like Barney Fife and driving the car. At first people had no idea why they were being stopped. Now, it's become a big deal. People love having their picture made with Walter and he loves doing it."
Payne said most people are polite to Keck once they realize they are not breaking the law. But he said there are always some naysayers, especially on social media.
"Sometimes people are pretty gruff until they realize they are being stopped by Barney Fife," Payne said. "A couple of years ago, someone was burning us up on Facebook pretty badly. 'The D'Iberville Police Department is picking on Cruisin' the Coast people,' that type of stuff. But even that person changed their tune when they found out what was really going on."
Payne said the cruisers look forward to seeing Walter every year.
"People love Walter and he loves doing it," he said. "With all of the negativity that is associated with police these days, we are glad we can do something to put a smile on someone's face."