CLEARWATER — A traffic light malfunctioned. A torrential rain made the road slick. A friend borrowed the car.
The Municipal Code Enforcement Board heard these and other explanations from people who received red-light camera citations during Clearwater's first red-light appeals hearing, an option to county court.
Eight people pleaded their cases Wednesday, each limited to 15 minutes. All were denied.
Some left in tears. Others stormed out of the meeting room.
"Everybody had an excuse," said board member Mike Riordon.
A state law now requires cities to offer an option for red-light camera appeals and lengthens the time to contest a citation from 30 to 60 days. Clearwater turned to its Code Enforcement Board, made up of volunteers, as the appeals venue for drivers slapped with $158 tickets.
The law also allows boards hearing appeals to add up to $250 to the fines. Clearwater's board used that leeway Wednesday, ordering most of the red-light violators to pay an additional $55 to cover administrative fees for the hearing.
Driver Johanna Herrera was up first at the podium.
Video footage showed Herrera's silver Toyota SUV whisking under a red light July 9. Holding up her ticket, Herrera, of Orlando, told the board it wasn't her fault. She was in Clearwater Beach that day with friends and doesn't remember who was driving her car.
But state law requires only that officials prove the vehicle is registered under the name of the person receiving the ticket.
Her appeal was denied. She was ordered to pay her fine, plus administrative costs, by Oct. 25. Outside in the hallway, she wiped away tears.
"When I saw the ticket, I was surprised," she said. "I try to be careful with that. I try to be honest."
Then came Elaine Schroeder of St. Petersburg.
Yes, Schreoder admitted, she ran the red light in her Mercedes.
"As you can see, the road was wet," she explained. "No, I am not stopping. A big storm had just passed the area. If I hit the brakes, I would have gone into a skid."
Alex Stevenson of St. Petersburg said he had no choice but run the red light for a left-turn lane at Belcher Road and Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard when the arrow light switched quickly from green to red.
The board disagreed. He was fined $158, plus administrative costs.
"This is basically a ploy to get the city more money," Stevenson said.
Joel Bria Jr. of Clearwater was more fortunate.
"Is there any way not to pay that administrative fee?" he asked. "Because I know I'm guilty and I just want to pay this."
His honesty, board member Riordon said after the hearing, paid off. Bria escaped the $55 fee.
"Bottom line is," he added, "you don't go through red-light cameras."
Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.