NAPLES — It was before sunrise in late August when Joe Braden turned right on red at the intersection of Airport-Pulling Road and Immokalee Road while on his way to the golf course.
Braden said he pulled up a ways in the intersection to see past some trees before making his turn, but had no idea he may have broken the law when he did so. He was surprised to receive a $125 red-light running citation in the mail a few days ago.
Though he wasn’t scheduled to appear, Braden showed up at the Collier County commission room on Wednesday morning anyway to talk to the Collier County sheriff’s deputies who approved the citation. Wednesday’s 9 a.m. hearing was the first opportunity for people to contest citations they received from the county’s 11 functioning red-light running cameras, which were installed over the past six months.
Two previous red-light running hearings were canceled due to a lack of contested violations, authorities said.
Before the hearing started, Braden showed the online video of his violation to Lt. Harold Minch, who oversees the Sheriff’s Office’s traffic unit. The video showed Braden approach the intersection in his black Chrysler 300, drive over the white stop line, and then come to a stop or slow crawl, before completing the turn.
“Had I been standing there as a police officer, I would not have written you a citation,” Minch said.
So, without even officially appearing before the special magistrate who oversees the hearing, Braden’s citation went away. The Sheriff’s Office later confirmed that Braden’s citation would be dismissed.
When asked if he was happy with Minch’s decision, Braden said “extremely,” adding that he would have paid if he was found guilty.
“I was probably wrong by not stopping at the big white line,” Braden said. “One thing that I don’t do is argue with law enforcement.”
Not everyone was as lucky as Braden, however.
Twelve people were originally slated to appear before Special Magistrate Brenda Garretson on Wednesday, but of those, only three actually did. A couple of people on the agenda decided to pay their fine, rather than face an additional $50 fee if Garretson didn’t rule in their favor, and one was dismissed beforehand when deputies determined the driver actually had a green arrow at the time the citation was issued.
The rest were continued until October for various reasons.
The hearing started with an attorney representing one of the drivers contesting the constitutionality of the cameras. But Garretson continued, saying her role as special magistrate is not to determine constitutionality, but if the red-light running ordinance, as it now stands, was violated.
In a case similar to Braden’s, Marjorie Ann Burnham of North Naples argued that she actually came to a stop before taking a right on red in June at the intersection of Pine Ridge Road and Airport-Pulling Road. Unlike Braden, however, Burnham’s citation stood — with the additional $50 fee — when Garretson agreed with deputies that Burnham rolled through the intersection without ever coming to a stop.
“I think that basically their minds are made up before you get in there,” Burnham said afterward.
Ray Gudur, of North Naples, was able to get his mother’s citation dismissed Wednesday when he provided a death certificate, showing that his mother died the day before her car was seen blowing a red light. He said he doesn’t know who was driving it.
Though he said the process to contest the citation was difficult and confusing, Gudur said he was happy with the result.
“I think she was fair,” he said of Garretson.
East Naples resident Scott Turner was less impressed.
Though the video of Turner turning right on red at Pine Ridge Road and Airport-Pulling Road appeared to show him running the light without stopping, Turner contended that he actually had a green arrow at the time. For about an hour he and his attorney scrutinized the video and two photographs, which also appeared to show Turner running the light.
Turner said the green arrow was either not visible on the video or photos, or that it changed immediately from green to red, with no yellow in between, not allowing him enough time to stop.
Ultimately, Garretson backed the deputies.
“This is a revenue scam,” Turner said. “You guys just make the money. That’s what this is all about.”
After the hearing was over, Minch said the deputies who review the citations have become more stringent on right-on-red cases since the program began.
Minch said that technically, anyone who drives past the white stop line without stopping while making a right on red is violating the law, even if they stop later.
“We need you to stop at red lights,” he said. “We’re not going to get carried away at this point if your tire’s over the line or your bumper is over the line.”