Three chili cook offs ago, while on his way down U.S. 98 to St. George Island, an assistant school superintendent from Tallahassee got caught with not a small amount of drugs, after he aroused suspicion by trying to avoid a traffic checkpoint set up near Lanark Village.

Spotting this, sheriff’s deputies stopped his truck because he appeared not to be wearing his seatbelt, and with the help of the K-9 unit, discovered inside over an ounce of cocaine, prescription medications, including Dilaudid, Xanax, Klonopin, Oxycodone, Librium and Darvocet; a set of digital scales; and $1,637.

Last week, it took a Franklin County jury about two hours to determine Paul W. Byrd Jr., who had been with the Leon County schools for 29 years, guilty of trafficking in drugs, and possessing both them and paraphernalia. He was taken into custody, and is scheduled to be sentenced March 15.

Byrd’s attorney tried, without success, to have the evidence against his client thrown out on the basis that the stop, not far from where a large “narcotics checkpoint” sign was lit up, and patrol cars were flashing their lights, was illegal, because it did not fit into Supreme Court guidelines for permissible search-and-seizure.

Such a ruse checkpoint, one in which not every car is stopped and checked for safety, and there’s stepped-up attention paid to those who appear to be avoiding such a stop, is likely to once again fit into new sheriff A.J. Smith’s strategy for keeping this weekend’s party all about chili, and not about chilling in jail, or even worse, a chilling traffic mishap.

“This is kind of a kick-off to spring break, and summer,” said Smith, noting that among his staff, “nobody’s off that day, everybody’s working, along with FHP (Florida Highway Patrol.)

“We want everybody to have a good time, “ he said. “We’re going to enforce the law. We want to keep everybody safe.”

Smith stressed the most prevalent problem, drunk driving, and said there’s lots of options for partiers other than getting behind the wheel of a car or truck. A designated driver, or calling someone to pick you up, even a deputy sheriff, are all ways not to risk a car accident, or thousands of dollars in costs, and possible jail time, if you’re arrested before you cause an accident.

“ I want people to think twice before they get behind the wheel when they’ve had too much to drink,” said Smith. “Just don’t do it. People know how to behave. Don’t do things you know are bad for our community.”

Smith also noted that people who drive golf carts and ATVs need to be careful.

“You can’t ride a golf cart on the sidewalk,” he said. “If we get complaints, we’re going to be looking because people have complained about it. A lot of people driving on bike paths.”

Also, he noted, ATVs are not allowed on roads on St. George Island. “People are bringing ATVs and driving them on the roads, and it’s against the law,” said Smith.

“I want everybody to come to chili cook-off and have a great time,” he said. “Just don’t drink and drive and abide by the laws.”