Brent Batten: A house is not a home - or a car

BRENT BATTEN
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— “Quick, officer, follow that house!”

A red light citation issued to a mobile home registration shows again that the county’s red light system is not perfect.

“There’s going to be human error. They’re humans doing it,” said Lt. Harold Minch of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, the lead deputy working on the red light camera operation.

County commissioners are scheduled to discuss and perhaps tweak the red light camera system at today’s meeting.

The mobile home case, and a handful of others in which violators have been given the wrong location of the offense, highlight an important point in the program — the accused should review their citations and watch the video of it before conceding guilt and mailing in a check.

Mary Kessler-Reisinger gives an account of how a house trailer she and her husband once owned in Arcadia became the subject of a citation.

She says she returned from vacation late last month to find in her mail a second notice of violation, informing her that her vehicle had been photographed failing to stop at a red light. Since she hadn’t responded to the first notice, she had forfeited her right to a hearing and must pay the $125 fine, the notice said.

Kessler-Reisinger said she may have thrown the first notice, bearing a Collier County seal but a return address in Arizona, out without opening it. “You get so much junk mail,” she said.

Kessler-Reisinger said she watched the videotape and saw an unfamiliar car make the right turn from Vanderbilt Beach Road onto U.S. 41 without stopping. Close inspection revealed that the license number of the car was not the same as the one on the citation she received in the mail. Two digits were transposed. So instead of the owner of the car getting the ticket, it came to Kessler-Reisinger. The number on the citation matched that of a 1983 Trophy brand mobile home she and her husband sold three years ago. Mobile homes, even those permanently anchored, are registered through the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles. Minch said employees of American Traffic Solutions, the company that provides the cameras, review video of apparent violations and prepare the citations. Collier sheriff’s deputies check their work and decide if the citation should be mailed out. It is unusual for such a glaring error to get through, Minch said. He’s seen cases where the offending car was a similar make and model to a car incorrectly tagged, making such an oversight more likely, but still not right.

Anyone wrongly accused won’t be fined, Minch said. That goes for Kessler-Reisinger, even though she missed the deadline to request a hearing. “If your car isn’t involved, you don’t have any liability,” he said. “They need to look at the video. If they didn’t do it, I don’t want them paying the fine.”

The overseers of the red light camera program are subject to human error, and human frailty.

Minch said the cameras periodically catch sheriff’s cars failing to stop at a red light. Those with emergency lights on are exempt from the red light law by state statute. So far only four instances have turned up in which a sheriff’s car has been photographed without an obvious legal reason for rolling through the red light, Minch said. Citations are sent to Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, since the cars are registered to his agency, Minch said. Of the four, three have been dismissed during the appeal process because further investigation showed they were responding to a call without their lights activated. The fourth case is pending.

County spokesman John Torre said two county government vehicles have been caught going through red lights. The county employee handbook requires drivers in county vehicles to obey all traffic laws. The two drivers were identified and required to pay the $125 fine, Torre said.

One violator worked for the wastewater department and the other, ironically, for traffic operations.

Connect with Brent Batten at http://www.naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten/

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