Gay lawmaker chatting on phone, cruising alone in HOV

State Rep. Sam Park got a dose of social media justice after being spotted violating Georgia’s ban on holding your cell phone while driving – all while driving alone in an HOV lane.

Jim Shumake was in standstill traffic when he noticed Park, a Democrat from Lawrenceville, next to him in the HOV lane on the Downtown Connector. Shumake saw the driver holding his cell phone and figured out it was Park thanks to his official license plate identifying him as a state legislator, according to 11Alive.

“He was not only on his phone, he was driving without hands on the wheel, having a deep conversation in the HOV lane,” Shumake said. “If that was anybody else, we would have been pulled over or received a ticket.”

Shumake took a photo of Park (top photo) and posted it on Facebook, leading to a string of comments from people critical of Park. The post has since been taken down or set to private.

Police were not called about the incident.

Park, one of the five openly LGBTQ members of the state legislature, claimed he was running late for a committee meeting when the March 20 incident happened. Park apologized in an email to 11Alive.

"Yesterday, I was heading to my Industry and Labor and Higher Education Committees [at the State Capitol in downtown Atlanta], but got stuck in traffic due to a car accident near the City of Atlanta. To ensure I would not be late to my 2pm hearing, I got onto the HOV lane so I would not miss a vote. I also gave my colleagues a call to update them with where I was. I take very seriously my duties as a State Representative, and I apologize for driving in the HOV lane. I appreciate voters holding me accountable."

The state’s hands-free law does not make exemptions for state legislators. Park voted to support an early version of the law, but was absent from the final vote during last year’s legislative session.

Park also sent Shumake a Facebook message apologizing and thanking him for holding him accountable. Park has not commented on any of his social media accounts about the incident.

11Alive noted that the hands-free law prohibits drivers from having cell phones in their hands for any reason — as Shumake did — but that there is an exception “while reporting an actual or potential crime or delinquent act.”

Park is in his second term representing House District 101 in Lawrenceville. He became the first openly gay man elected to the Georgia House in 2016. He is also the first Asian-American Democrat elected to the House.