Local News

Red-Light Camera Yields Case Of Mistaken Identity

Posted October 31, 2003 6:33 a.m. EST

— Red-light cameras. Just the mention of them will get strong opinions from drivers.

Many drivers do not like the idea of "Big Brother" watching them -- especially those who have been sent red-light tickets by mistake.

Since March 2000, 12,093 people have been caught running red lights in Fayetteville. When the All-American City's red-light cameras catch drivers, they receive a ticket in the mail.

Margaret Jacques, who lives in Raleigh, got one of the tickets from Fayetteville in September.

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"The first letter we actually opened was the one for failure to pay. We got to looking for the original and found out when we were out of town I had gotten a citation from the City of Fayetteville for running a red light," she said.

Jacques'citation stated she ran the red light at Martin Luther King Parkway at Ramsey Street, just north of downtown Fayetteville. The problem? Jacques said she has never been to Fayetteville.

That is not all.

"The car in the picture looks like a small brown Honda. I have a silver Impala," she said.

The license plates are only one digit off, but they do not match.

"I was very angry," Jacques said. "The first thing that came to mind is where was I on Sept 12 at 12 o'clock? I have not a clue, I felt like a criminal."

So how could this mistake happen?

"It happens through error, human error," said Rusty Thompson, Fayetteville traffic engineer.

Thompson said someone misread the red-light violator's license plate. The city has voided Jacque's ticket, but not before Jacque said she had to make repeated calls, get her own copies of documents and chase down what happened.

"They put the responsibility to prove that's not my car on me. No more innocent until proven guilty, it's the other way around," she said.

Thompson said he is sorry about what happened, but said Fayetteville has a good track record. Of those 12,093 red light tickets, 52 were sent to the wrong driver. That is less than one percent.

"I don't think we're improperly watching anybody. We're only watching the people who run red lights and there is some human error in processing that information," Thompson said.

After Jacques case of mistaken identity, she now thinks the red light cameras are a mistake.

Since Raleigh put up red light cameras in August, the city has issued 1,945 red light violations. Engineers said 15 of those tickets are being appealed for possible mistaken identity.