Posted on Wed, Dec. 07, 2005

Cameras accuse 2,600 of speeding
Nearly 40% of offenders caught in Copley Road area; fines near $500,000
By John Higgins, Andale Gross and David Knox
Beacon Journal staff writers

Nestor Traffic Systems photographed more than 2,600 alleged speeders this fall -- snapping as many as seven cars a minute -- in and around Akron school zones.

The take in fines in that 19-day period: nearly half a million dollars.

The tripod-mounted mobile cameras nailed the most drivers in the 1400 and 1500 blocks of Copley Road, near Erie Island Elementary School in West Akron. Nestor nabbed more than 1,000 drivers there and issued $182,000 in fines, nearly 40 percent of the total.

The second-busiest stakeout was in the 400 block of Darrow Road near Betty Jane Elementary School in Goodyear Heights: 301 vehicles were photographed, and $51,250 in fines was generated.

The site that netted the fewest violations -- just one -- was in the 700 block of Lovers Lane, near where a 10-year-old boy going to school was killed by a hit-skip driver in September.

Among all the violations, the average speed was 12 to 13 mph over the limit, according to an Akron Beacon Journal analysis of data supplied by Nestor to Akron officials.

In many cases, the cameras didn't cut much slack: 40 percent of those fined $150 were going 10 mph or less over the posted limit. One person was going only 5 mph over a 20 mph limit.

More than 100 people got more than one ticket. A half dozen of those got three tickets each, with fines totaling $450 to $650.

Many of those ticketed had no idea they'd been caught until they received a letter, or two letters, with a photo and the amount owed.

Some had seen the tripods and suspected they'd been snapped.

Akron school board member Linda Omobien was one of them. ``I was getting off the expressway at Copley Road, and I turn onto Copley, and I had no idea I was going that fast,'' said Omobien, who admits she was speeding and paid the ticket. ``This is going to make us all cognizant of what we need to do.''

Photos may be too early

Catherine DeLuca, wife of All-American Soap Box Derby director Anthony DeLuca, saw the mobile van and tripod Nov. 2 on East Tallmadge Avenue but was sure she wasn't speeding.

According to Nestor's records, she was speeding in a school zone at 2:11 p.m., supposedly at a restricted time when the speed limit would be 20 mph.

But she called Findley Elementary School and was told that students aren't released until 2:30 p.m.

She appealed to Akron police, who agreed that she shouldn't have been ticketed.

She wasn't the only one who may have been wrongly ticketed. Nestor clocked its first car at that site that day at 2:02 p.m. and nabbed 25 other drivers before 2:30 p.m.

Allen Hine got two tickets in the mail -- one for $150 and one for $250 -- before he even realized the program was in effect. He wonders if he should appeal, but questioned whether it would be worth the effort. ``You're kind of screwed,'' he said. ``If I'm just driving and nothing dramatic happens, I don't remember it.''

Floyd Radford didn't remember speeding on Newton Street on Nov. 18, but the $150 ticket he received in the mail Monday said he was driving 45 in a 35.

``I just think it's unjustified,'' said Radford, 68, of Goodyear Heights. ``I think it's an underhanded thing.''

Radford, who is retired from Hamlin Steel and is a part-time custodian at Goodyear Heights Presbyterian Church, believes the ticket stems from a trip he made to the grocery store.

``I just drive with the flow of traffic,'' he said. ``I'm probably guilty, but the fine is awful stiff. I have a good driving record.''

Akron's law

Akron's speeding law is clear, sort of. It's 20 mph in school zones during recess and ``while children are going to or leaving school during the opening and closing hours.''

The Akron Law Department is looking into exactly what ``opening and closing hours'' means.

Akron's schools -- public and private -- have different schedules and recess hours. Also, flashing lights are a courtesy to drivers, not a requirement of the law. Nestor also is ticketing speeders who exceed the posted limits near school zones.

Akron's 90-day trial period with Nestor doesn't change any laws, only how they're enforced.

Nestor collects $19 from each paid ticket. It's a civil infraction rather than a criminal one, so it's not reported to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and does not add points to a driver's license.

Although the private Rhode Island company sends the initial and follow-up letters to the registered owners of the photographed vehicles, it is not in charge of collecting fines. That responsibility belongs to the city, which can pursue unpaid tickets in small-claims court, said Assistant Akron Law Director Stephen Fallis.

Views of police

Akron police said they were already monitoring most of the areas that the cameras are targeting. ``We hit the schools on a regular basis,'' Lt. Tom Hanley said. Of drivers, he said: ``We weren't getting their attention. Now we are.''

He said police were receiving frequent complaints about speeders around Betty Jane, Erie Island, Forest Hill and Findley elementary schools. Those areas are among those in which the cameras have been used.

Hanley said the new system is allowing traffic cops to branch out and pursue other projects, such as working with the State Highway Patrol to clock speeders on U.S. 224 near South Main Street and Interstate 77 near White Pond Drive.

Police union leader Paul Hlynsky called the camera program a ``ridiculous technique'' that takes work and control away from officers.

Proposal for change

Akron City Councilman Garry Moneypenny, D-10, said he agrees that Akron police need more enforcement, but the system needs adjustments.

Moneypenny, a Springfield Township police captain, said he will suggest that the city use the ticket money to buy digital message boards that tell drivers how fast they are going. The ``smart boards'' would collect data on speeders for one week, giving them warnings but no tickets. The following week, the cameras would be in use in the same location, and drivers would be ticketed.

``You slow people down for two weeks now and maybe three weeks,'' he said.

In Westlake, a suburb west of Cleveland, police Capt. Guy Turner has been giving Nestor a tryout in his town of about 35,000, but the system is not issuing citations, only collecting data. Tuner's boss won the 30-day trial in a raffle at a police chiefs conference in Toledo this summer.

Nestor set up cameras in problem areas and is collecting data. The city is unlikely to act until a bill severely limiting automated ticketing is decided in the state legislature.

``I think we want to show some good faith here,'' Turner said. ``If the legislature decides to ban this kind of automated enforcement -- and I hope they don't -- it wouldn't reflect well on us that we raced under the deadline to get these devices into service and issue citations.''

He said perception is everything. ``You have to use it judiciously,'' Turner said. ``This discussion has been going on for years. It can't be a revenue stream. It's supposed to be -- and it ought to be -- for traffic safety.''