VINTON, La., August 25 (AP) -- The preacher who crashed a carload of naked Pentecostals into a tree pleaded guilty to misdemeanor traffic charges Wednesday and was allowed to leave town.
"I would like to apologize to the people of Vinton and Floydada for everything ... and I ask for their forgiveness," Sammy Rodriguez, 29, of Floydada, Texas, said afterward.
Magistrate Kent Savoie asked why Rodriguez and 19 relatives left their clothes in a pilgrimage from Texas that ended Aug. 19 with a 90 mph chase through Vinton.
"I don't know what possessed you to do what you did, but I'm relying on the statement you were told to do so by some higher being," Savoie said.
"It wasn't God, sir," Rodriguez answered, his voice nearly inaudible.
Rodriguez, pastor of the Templo Getsemani Assembly of God Church, told police after his arrest that God had told the family to leave Texas and, later, to leave behind their clothes.
After Wednesday's hearing, he told The Vinton News he had a vision from God on Aug. 17 telling him Judgment Day was at hand and his family had to go to Florida and become evangelists.
Rodriguez pleaded guilty to reckless driving and to flight from police, who arrested him after his 1990 Pontiac Grand Am ran through the fence around Vinton's baseball field and into a tree.
If Rodriguez pays $975 to fix the fence and a telephone pole, city prosecutors said they will dismiss a charge of criminal damage to property.
Although Rodriguez and all 19 passengers were naked, police did not bring charges of indecent exposure.
"The statute states that for indecent exposure, you have to be exposing yourself in order to arouse someone," Court Clerk Mary Vice said. "That wasn't their intent."
Savoie gave Rodriguez 90 days to pay for the fence and 30 to pay a $650 fine. Rodriguez was ordered to spend 17 days in jail, but the magistrate gave him credit for six days served and suspended the rest.
Rodriguez said he planned to leave immediately for Floydada, a Texas Panhandle town about 550 miles northwest of Vinton.
"When I return to Floydada I am pretty certain that I will no longer be the pastor of my church, unless the people there can forgive me," he said. "I plan to look for a job as soon as I get back."
Rodriguez' wife's family sent her a plane ticket and she returned Friday, and a relative drove the other 18 people to Wauchula, Fla., relatives said.
If the same people claimed they heard Satan telling them to do what they did, any bets on them getting off so lightly?