Investigators: Red-light cameras may issue illegal tickets

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on February 3, 2010 at 11:16 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 3 at 11:16 PM

SEATTLE - It's just one little traffic case. But it's calling into question thousands of tickets generated by some of those red-light cameras in Seattle.

Traffic judges have declared the camera set-up illegal at a busy intersection near the University of Washington and they've tossed tickets out, but the city is still ticketing unsuspecting motorists.

NE 45th Street at Union Bay Place NE is not your typical intersection.

"What's unusual is you have cars coming from all directions at you," said Michael Stokes who routinely drives through the intersection.

The five-way intersection has a dizzying configuration of lights and signs and turn lanes. And towering over it all are camera systems on the lookout for red-light runners.

Recently they recorded  video of an eastbound car on NE 45th Street. It clearly shows the car cruising through the intersection after the light turned red. The driver got a costly ticket for $124 in the mail.

But on Monday Seattle traffic judge Francis deVilla dismissed the infraction.

He didn't respond to the KING 5 Investigators' repeated requests for an explanation.

But the City Attorney's Office says it was just informed deVilla ruled that the camera system is illegal at the intersection. The judge apparently based that decision on state law which says cameras are restricted to intersections where two arterial roads meet - your typical four-way stop.

But then, NE 45th Street at Union Bay is a five-way intersection.

The judge may have determined that one extra street means cameras cannot legally be placed here.

Gareth Kenee is one of more than 9,000 drivers that city records show got a ticket there. Like many, he didn't have time to go to court to challenge it.

"Yeah, I just paid it," Kenee said.

At $124 a ticket, this could be potentially be a million-dollar intersection for the city since it installed cameras there a year and a half ago.

We've learned legal questions were raised months ago in a lawsuit now being heard in federal court.

And  the City Attorney's Office acknowledges that Seattle traffic judge Adam Eisenberg dismissed at least one ticket at the same intersection.

So why does the city continue to issue tickets and fines at a controversial intersection?

The City Attorney's Office believes the intersection is legal and says it will likely fight all these challenges.

Meantime, the city continues to write an average of 16 tickets a day at that one intersection.

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