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‘Runaway bride’ mowing lawns per court order

Runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks mowed government property Tuesday in Lawrenceville, Ga., Tuesday as part of her court-ordered community service for lying to police after she ran off before her wedding.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks mowed the lawn of a government building Tuesday as part of her court-ordered community service for lying to police after she ran off days before her scheduled wedding.

Wearing an orange community service vest, a ballcap that said “Life is good” and running shoes, Wilbanks seemed upbeat as she pushed a powered mower by a swarm of reporters and photographers. She briefly spoke when the mower’s engine died in tall, wet grass.

“I’m doing well,” said Wilbanks, who has been undergoing mental health treatment. She admitted with a laugh that it had been a long time since she had mowed a lawn.

“I need to get back to work. I don’t want to get into trouble,” she added.

Her lawn mower then kept dying in the grass, each time prompting her to repeatedly yank on the pull string to restart it. After the eighth time it quit, she let out a big sigh.

In all, she was ordered to do 120 hours of service. Wilbanks had already completed 16 hours of her sentence by cleaning probation offices and washing public vehicles. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Peggy Chapman said Wilbanks planned to work off eight more hours Tuesday, also picking up trash.

“She’s a hard worker. She didn’t take advantage of anything. She did more work than most people,” said 17-year-old Michael Powell, who has cleaned bathrooms and offices with Wilbanks while working off his own sentence of 80 hours of community service for an offense he declined to disclose.

Wilbanks, 32, disappeared four days before her scheduled wedding in April, and was reported missing early the next morning. Hundreds of police officers and volunteers — including members of the wedding party — searched for her for three days.

Paying restitution to towns that searched for her
Then she called her fiance, John Mason, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, early in the morning of her planned wedding day, claiming to have been abducted and sexually assaulted. She soon recanted her story, saying she fled because of personal issues.

Wilbanks pleaded no contest in June to telling police her phony story. She also was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay $2,550 in restitution to the sheriff's office that helped with the search for her.

The nearby city of Duluth, Georgia, where Wilbanks had lived with her fiance, spent nearly $43,000 to search for her; Wilbanks has repaid $13,249.