Other drivers getting the red light runaround

But man who erroneously received ticket is told problem has been fixed

April 23, 2002|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Charles Ricketts is apparently off the hook for the red light violation he didn't commit.

Now, if only the city of Baltimore could resolve the cases against Thomas Bowen and Francois Furstenberg and Krista Baker.

Officials said last week that they'd never seen a case like Ricketts' -- who recently received a ticket for running a red light though the citation showed someone else's car photographed by an enforcement camera at Reisterstown Road and Menlo Drive. On Friday afternoon, the day after The Sun published an article about Ricketts' ticket and his problems getting it thrown out, a city employee phoned him.

"She said they'd checked it over, and the citation would be removed," Ricketts said yesterday. "I tried to get a little information about whether I would get something in writing, but she kind of evaded that." He worries that the problem might resurface someday -- when he's trying to renew his tags, for instance.

If Francois Furstenberg's experience is an indication, those fears could be well-grounded. Furstenberg is among numerous motorists who say Ricketts' experience isn't unique.

"I spent months trying to get them to overturn my ticket," said the 29-year-old Johns Hopkins University graduate student. Furstenberg drives a blue 1988 Chevrolet Nova. The citation he received in the mail last summer bore pictures of a car that clearly wasn't his. Besides, the photo of the tag was so unclear, it was impossible to make out all the numbers, he said.

After two days of phoning, he managed to get through to the fine collections office, which informed him he would have to appear in court. Meanwhile, he wrote letters trying to get the case dropped, but that didn't work, either. Finally, on Feb. 4, armed with the citation and a photograph of his car, he appeared in District Court.

"The judge took one look and said they'd made a mistake, and that was it," he said. The case was dropped. Almost.

A month ago, he received a letter from the fine collections office telling him that he had failed to appear for trial and that he owed $75 for the violation.

"I would bet that in 50 percent of the mistakes, people just don't bother and send in the money," Furstenberg said yesterday. "That's certainly what I would have done if I had a job. It isn't worth all this hassle."

Thomas Bowen thought his ticket problem had been resolved, too.

The Sykesville resident received a ticket in February claiming he had run a red light at Franklin Street and Franklintown Road on Jan. 13. The citation bore photos of a rust-colored van with tag number M067542. Bowen drives a black Isuzu Rodeo with tag number M267542.

The day he received the ticket, he began calling the fine office.

"Busy, busy, busy, busy," he said. So he sent registered letters explaining the problem. "I've been trying to get this taken care of since February," he said.

Late last month, an employee from the collection office phoned him to say staffers had checked the records and discovered that the vehicle in the picture belonged to the Salvation Army.

"She said, `I don't know why you're getting this,' and she said I shouldn't have any more trouble," said Bowen.

But the ticket bounced back to him April 5, with instructions that he owed $75.

"That's where I am," he said yesterday. "If I could get through to find out something about the case, I'd be most appreciative, but I can't get through."

Then there's the case of John Allen of Denton, who received a red light camera ticket last month with a photograph of a car bearing a plate number that hadn't been registered in his name for a decade. And of Lisa Pratt-Istvan, who recently got a ticket for a plate she'd turned in more than a year ago.

Krista Baker is heading to court June 28 to try to clear up the citation she received in the mail in February. The picture of a two-door black Honda running a red light at President and Fayette streets bears no resemblance to her four-door blue Saturn.

"The close-up picture of the plate is ridiculously blurry," said the Towson resident. "You can barely tell it's a Maryland plate."

Jennifer Sproul, head of the city fine collection office, said yesterday that if there are blatant errors on a ticket, no one should be told they have to go to court.

If people have trouble getting through on the phones, which are being replaced with a better system soon, she suggests sending e-mail to baltimorecitycollections@baltimorecity.gov.

"We do have some new employees, and maybe we have a training problem," she said.

Ricketts, meanwhile, hopes his problems are over.

"But I'm not going to hold my breath," he said.

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