A northern Georgia sheriff took to the department's Facebook page and canceled Valentine’s Day because of dangerous, icy road conditions – succeeding in eliminating car crashes, but drawing some heat from lovers.
Here's Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry's cupid-killer message: “The Oconee County Sheriffs Office announces that Valentines Day has been CANCELED from a line North of I-16 to the Georgia/Tennessee border.
Men who live in the designated ‘NO VALENTINES DAY ZONE’ are exempt from having to run out and buy lottery scratchers and Hershey bars from the corner stores until February 18, 2014, due to ice, snow, freezing rain,” he wrote on Facebook.
“We had extremely low traffic volumes,” Berry told The Times on Friday. He had feared that many of the county's 34,000 residents would venture out on dangerous roads to buy Valentine’s gifts. “We had just two traffic incidents, and those were people getting stuck.”
In anticipation of the storm, Berry had posted a video early in the week on Facebook and YouTube in which he made dire warnings about the storm.
“You will lose commercial power,” he said. “Today is going to be your last travel day. No one can drive on ice. The roads are going to be sheets of ice.”
By Wednesday, he worried that people would be itching to get out when some stores reopened. So he capitalized on Valentine’s Day to get a message to the department’s 10,000 Facebook followers.
“We thought people would get stir-crazy sitting in their homes, and we needed to change things up, and it worked,” Berry said.
Friday, the Georgia Department of Transportation declared victory in the effort to keep people off roads.
"With your help, a forecasted 'catastrophic' weather event became better than expected on our road network," district engineer Bayne Smith said of Georgia residents in a statement.
"By staying off state routes and interstates, you gave GDOT room to work in the travel lanes."
However, not everyone was in love with Berry's Valentine scheme.
In addition to some mean Facebook comments, Berry said the department received two disparaging emails and an angry phone call.
"Once again a public official makes a ridiculous statement and makes Georgians look [like] totally backwards red necks," one email read. "No wonder people in other states think we are 'stupid hillbillies!!!!' "
Others blew a virtual kiss. "Good call Sheriff," wrote one woman. 'If my husband of 36 years wanted to go out for roses in these conditions, I would seriously hide his keys..."
And some just chuckled.
"This just in," one man wrote. "Men's shelter soon to open in Oconee County."
It's not the first time Berry has had some fun on the department's official page. During a previous storm, Berry said he warned people not to lick flagpoles.
“Instead of being boring and serious all the time, we try to make it a little funny when we can,” Berry said of the social media strategy. “We take our work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. I think our community responds well to that.”
As it turned out, Valentine’s Day was a lovely 50 degrees in Oconee County.
“The sun’s out, the road’s are clear,” Berry said. “We’re having a great day.”