WARREN - Kyle Presjak walked into the church library Thursday after his mother drove him about 1,400 miles in hopes of restarting his life.
He sat in a makeshift courtroom where computers had been plugged into the walls near children's books and in front of a judge who was wearing a tie and no robe. Outside the library and up the stairs were 40 law enforcement officers.
Presjak, 21, was cited years ago for a speeding violation and driving without a license. He failed to show up for his court appearance. He moved from Mecca to the Houston area and has since been unable to drive because of his outstanding warrant.
Tribune Chronicle photos / R. Michael Semple
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, right, shakes the hand of Kyle Presjak, 21, formerly of Mecca and now living in Texas, after Presjak returned to Ohio to clear up charges against him Thursday at the Safe
Surrender Program at United Methodist Church in Warren.
On Thursday, he and his mother drove from Texas to the First United Methodist Church on North Park Avenue to clear his case and his driving record, which will allow him to get a driver's license.
''I was afraid of getting arrested and everything," he said. "My aunt told me about the program, and I was still scared. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.''
Presjak was one of 12 wanted people who came in Thursday, the first day of the inaugural Fugitive Safe Surrender Program in Trumbull County, clearing 14 warrants. Another 10 people surrendered but turned out not to be wanted on warrants.
The program was organized and financially backed in part by the state Attorney General's Office. It runs through Saturday. Judges will be on hand with staff and can resolve most cases on the spot.
There are about 5,000 active warrants in Trumbull County.
The same program opened its doors Thursday in Columbiana County, where 10 people turned themselves in.
Attorney General Mike DeWine, who visited both sites Thursday, said another Fugitive Safe Surrender program will be set up in Mahoning County in late September.
The program was created in Cleveland in 2005 when U.S. Marshal Peter J. Elliott was looking for ways to ensure the safety of both people wanted for low-level crimes and law enforcement officials involved in their pursuit following the fatal shooting of a Cleveland police officer shot by someone with an outstanding warrant.
During a three-day period, approximately 800 people wanted on a variety of charges turned themselves in.
In 19 cities across the nation, more than 34,000 fugitives surrendered in different forms of the program. However, in March 2011, the U.S. Marshal's office ended its funding of the program. DeWine then announced he would keep the program alive in Ohio.
The first program under the Ohio Attorney General's office was done in Mansfield in October 2011, where 121 individuals surrendered, clearing 182 warrants.
The program in Trumbull County cost about $13,000 and Columbiana's about $4,000. About 15 state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation agents a handful of Warren police and Trumbull County Sheriff's deputies were on hand to assist the process. About 30 others volunteered.
The morning started steadily with 13 people turning themselves in the first three hours, mostly on traffic citations and person on an outstanding disorderly conduct charge from 1998.
At about 11 a.m., two Warren women, Denise Code and Anntownice Staggers, both showed up to clear past driving violation cases.
Staggers said she was driving home from a Super Bowl Party last year when she approached an icy intersection. When she decided not to stop for fear of her car sliding, she was pulled over.
Staggers never paid the $10 ticket or the $50 fine and costs for not having a driver's license. The fees ballooned to $435.
Warren Municipal Court Judge Thomas Gysegem waived $135 in late costs because Staggers turned herself in as part of the program. They also restructured her payment plan to $30 per month.
"It shows that we will work with you," Gysegem said. "We won't forget it, but we will work with you."
Presjak, too, benefited from the program. He said he had a troubled upbringing, ran with a bad crowd and got into trouble.
He was cited for speeding and didn't have a driver's license when he was pulled over. He showed up for his initial court appearance but never went back to court to resolve the matter.
He moved to Texas, found religion and is trying to get a job and straighten out his life. He said he was always worried about getting arrested in Texas for his Trumbull County warrant.
"I just want to get my life straight and get a job," he said. "I want to do good for myself and not let my family and God down."
Presjak walked up to DeWine after arrived and personally thanked him. DeWine talked to him for about five minutes.
"People make mistakes, especially when they're young," DeWine told Presjak.
DeWine said normally programs get more people as they go on. He said he expected more an increase each day throughout the weekend. He also said the second time the Safe Surrender comes back into town, possibly in two years depending on cooperation with local officials and churches willing to house the program, there usually is an increase.
"This is about a fresh start," DeWine said. "It's also about police officers and their safety. There are dangers involved with going after fugitives."