Sheriff's Office dismisses red-light tickets issued during traffic light malfunction

Traffic light malfunction in Naples

Drivers get red light camera tickets.

In this 2012 file photo, several drivers were ticketed after driving through flashing red traffic lights at the corner of Pine Ridge and Airport Pulling roads. Collier County sheriff's officials said tickets given to the drivers would be dismissed not because there was no violation, but because traffic light cameras can only be used to give citations for those who run steady red lights, not blinking ones.

Photo by LEXEY SWALL, Naples Daily News

In this 2012 file photo, several drivers were ticketed after driving through flashing red traffic lights at the corner of Pine Ridge and Airport Pulling roads. Collier County sheriff's officials said tickets given to the drivers would be dismissed not because there was no violation, but because traffic light cameras can only be used to give citations for those who run steady red lights, not blinking ones.

— A March traffic light malfunction at Collier County's busiest intersection has caused headaches well into April for law enforcement and more than a dozen drivers.

Punta Gorda resident Carl Horsley said his wife, Sasivimol, received a ticket in the mail last week for running a red light on March 28 at the intersection of Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge roads.

When they reviewed the 13-second video clip of the infraction online, they saw flashing red lights on the traffic signals and at least two dozen vehicles pass through the intersection. The lights were flashing red for about 15 minutes before Collier County sheriff's deputies arrived to direct traffic, officials said.

"I know even with the flashing red light there was no way that she could have stopped," Horsley said. "Nobody was stopping. They proceeded cautiously."

The battle of the blinking red lights is the latest in an ongoing dispute over Collier's red-light cameras, which were approved in 2008 and installed in 2009.

Earlier this week, Sheriff's Office officials said tickets given to Horsley and others would be dismissed, not because there was no violation, but because traffic light cameras can only be used to give citations for drivers who run steady red lights, not blinking ones. Blinking red-light runners would have to be cited in person by a deputy, said Sgt. Chris Gonzalez, of the Sheriff's Office's Safety and Traffic Enforcement Bureau.

"At face value, they were violating state statute," Gonzalez said. But "when we dig deeper, the language of the (traffic cameras) bill does not permit it to be used for blinking red."

Still, he said the drivers who went through the intersection "posed a very, very significant safety issue for people in that area."

"The act of going through a red light that's blinking is so inherently dangerous that it's ridiculous," he said.

But Horsley said his wife was moving with traffic flow and was confused without the help of deputies, who had not yet arrived.

"My wife was very upset," he said. "These ladies are visiting Naples for lunch and shopping and they're hassled by 'the man.'"

The tickets were issued by American Traffic Solutions, which operates the cameras, on behalf of the Sheriff's Office after a deputy reviewed the footage and agreed there was a violation, Gonzalez said.

The stoplights at that intersection were in blinking mode for about an hour and a half that day because of a malfunctioning part, said Connie Dean, spokeswoman for the Collier transportation department. Tickets will be dismissed for the 16 drivers who were cited for running the blinking red lights before deputies arrived, Gonzalez said.

Dean said she was unaware of any past malfunctions that had caused drivers to receive incorrect citations.

Gonzalez, who has overseen the division that reviews traffic camera tickets since 2009, said he believed it was the "first time ever" tickets were being dismissed after being given initial approval.

Although the red-light cameras remain an item of contention, recent votes by county commissioners indicate they're not going anywhere anytime soon. In February, the board approved a contract with American Traffic Solutions to operate the cameras for 10 more years.

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