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Red light camera tickets, and excuses, get a hearing in Tampa

TAMPA

One man blamed trees blocking his view of a traffic light. A woman said she couldn't see because of the tall truck in front of her. Several people told Hillsborough County's special magistrate that they weren't behind the wheel.

On Monday, the first rush of people appealing tickets generated by the county's six new red light cameras offered their excuses.

Steven Genne waved his license plate in front of the judge. It differed by one number from the tag on a truck that a camera captured running a red light.

"That's not my tag," Genne said. "This is my tag."

He explained that the Department of Motor Vehicles recorded one tag number for him but issued another. He is working to sort it out, he said.

Special magistrate William Christie leaned over and conferred with a county attorney sitting near him. Then he dismissed the case.

Most of the tickets of the 10 people who showed up at the County Center on Monday weren't dismissed.

Russell Mormon, who said trees blocked his view on Sligh and Habana avenues, plans to appeal the magistrate's decision in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. Joya Butler, who was behind the truck, paid her fine.

The tickets are $125 each, and Christie had the option of adding a $25 fee at the hearing.

These cases are heard by a Hillsborough County code enforcement special magistrate because red light camera enforcement comes from a county ordinance. They are not heard in Traffic Court because they are not "moving violations," meaning a law enforcement officer did not witness the violation.

The drivers don't get points added to their driving records.

On Monday, Christie dismissed only one other case. Rebecca Jarmon of Tampa came dressed in a suit and said she believes either her son or husband was driving the red truck captured in the video.

Both of them had denied it, she said. "I drive the Mercedes," she said. "I did not give them permission, and if I find out who it is. …" She waved her index finger in the air.

But Christie's decision had nothing to do with who was driving. He looked at the data generated by the camera, which measures (by the tenth of the second) how long the light has been red when a vehicle's wheels cross the thick white "stop line."

In this case, the light had been red for zero seconds.

"I feel that one was very close," said Christie, a real estate agent who volunteers as a special magistrate. He dismissed the case, and Jarmon left with a quick thank you.

Nationwide, the use of red light cameras has received criticism. Some see it as an invasion of privacy. Others say it's a cheap trick to build revenue. A South Florida judge recently ruled that red light cameras overstep state law, and a bill in the Florida Legislature would provide consistent rules for how the cameras could be used in the state.

They're already used in Brooksville, Kenneth City, Port Richey and Temple Terrace, in addition to Hillsborough. Tampa is researching similar cameras, and St. Petersburg's City Council will take a final vote on using them April 1.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Red light camera tickets, and excuses, get a hearing in Tampa 03/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 22, 2010 11:47pm]
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