A proposed state ban on red light and speeding cameras would make little difference to Kimberle Coleman, Asia Collins or Michael March. They don’t pay their tickets anyway.
With 36 delinquent red light, speeding or parking tickets — overwhelmingly speeding tickets from this year — Coleman raced to the top of the list of people with the most unpaid tickets in Dayton, a Dayton Daily News investigation found. Collins and March are next on the list with 28 violations each.
Those three are among more than 100 people who have 10 or more tickets, according to the city of Dayton’s list of people whose cars could be towed because they have three or more unpaid tickets. The 5,878 scofflaws on that list owe the city up to $2.5 million combined.
If a car is towed, it could cost the owner more than $1,000 to get it back. But if police don’t happen upon a car on the tow list — they don’t go looking for them — the most these people have to worry about is a damaged credit rating.
Camera opponents like state Rep. Ron Maag, R-Lebanon — sponsor of a bill that would ban cameras as they’re used in Dayton — says this illustrates a shortcoming of the cameras: People can choose not to pay tickets with limited consequences.
“If they were pulled over by an officer, it would be a criminal penalty (not to pay up) and they would be in jail,” Maag said.
But opponents of the ban said enough people do slow down when they see the cameras that they do reduce crashes.
“Most people do want to follow the rules, do want to follow the laws, and if they make a mistake, do pay the ticket,” said Rep. Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton.
By having a towing policy, Dayton is the most aggressive city in the region at enforcing camera-issued tickets. The most other cities will do is sick a bill collector on ticketed individuals.
“The only punitive result to receiving one of these is it goes to your credit bureau,” said Trotwood Police Chief Quincy Pope, who said about 40 percent of tickets there get paid. “People have a choice whether to pay it or not pay it.”
The top five
The Daily News went to the listed addresses of the five people on Dayton’s towing list with 20 or more unpaid tickets. Reporters found Vernesse Butler pulling her Nissan out of her Dayton driveway.
Butler said she was unaware she had 21 unpaid tickets. But even if she knew, she said she couldn’t afford to pay them because she is battling alleged fraud by her auto and health insurance companies after a 2003 auto accident left her with a back injury.
The other driver in that accident was speeding, she said. All of the outstanding tickets against Butler are for speeding.
Sixteen of Butler’s tickets are from this year. The most recent is from July.
City records say Butler has paid 11 other tickets. She said some of the paid tickets and unpaid ones probably are from her 18-year-old son. She doesn’t believe the cameras are accurate, and agrees they should be banned.
“If they make it illegal, apparently it wasn’t accurate in the first place,” she said.
The others in the top five couldn’t be reached for comment.
Court records show Coleman got her last speeding ticket from an officer in February, when she was clocked doing 80 mph on the highway. She has triggered speeding cameras 32 times since then — 12 times in June alone.
Complete with the seven tickets that aren’t yet delinquent, Coleman owes the city $4,885, and counting.
March got his last ticket in April 2012, about the time the city began towing. He had seven tickets in January 2012 — three on the same day that he also was ticketed by an officer for driving with expired plates.
That same month, March was charged with possession of cocaine. He was placed in rehab for five years and had his license suspended for six months in February. He was granted driving priveleges to work in March and triggered eight more speeding camera tickets in April.
His driving privileges were suspended in June for receiving traffic violations and not showing up to his probation meetings. He currently owes the city $3,080 in camera tickets.
Fellow top offender Collins’ last speeding ticket was in February, when she was clocked doing 47 in a 35-mph zone on Gettysburg Avenue. It was her third speeding ticket this year.
Collins also owes the city $157.30 for court costs she didn’t pay after she was cited for driving under suspension in May 2012. Her license was suspended because she hadn’t paid a ticket issued by an officer for speeding through a school zone in December 2011.
Collins wasn’t towed when she was cited in May 2012 because she was pulled over by a MetroParks police officer who didn’t have the Dayton tow list. Her past-due court costs were sent to collections.
The statewide camera ban has passed the Ohio House and has been passed to the Senate for discussion. Maag said his main opposition to the cameras is they don’t give drivers the ability to address their accuser.
“The camera does not come into the courtroom,” he said.
Maag said the bill does not provide amnesty for those scofflaws who have tickets piled up.
“This is to outlaw them (cameras),” he said. “It has nothing to do with what happened in the past.”
Strahorn said he voted against the ban mostly because he doesn’t think it had due consideration in the House. He said cities tell him it reduces crashes at intersections and helps fill a funding gap left by state budget cuts.
“At the end of the day I thought it was irresponsible to not give that more vetting than we did,” he said.
A ban on the cameras would not automatically disband the tow list unless the Senate added a provision extending the ban retroactively, said Tom Hagel, law professor at the University of Dayton’s law school.
“(Without that) since it was a violation at the time of the conduct, it (the ticket) stands,” Hagel said.
That likely is of little comfort to the thousands of drivers who have owned up to their tickets, netting the city $2.4 million in fiscal year 2012 alone.
The city has issued 113,849 speeding tickets since it started ticketing in 2011. It has issued 118,891 red light tickets since the cameras went on in 2003.
Dayton police Maj. Bruce Wolford said that people are taken off the list if they set up a payment plan with the city, but are put back on if they fail to make payments. So someone with dozens of tickets might not be on the list when they’re pulled over because they promised to pay.
“We try not to be too mean to these folks because if they are doing a payment plan it’s not fair if they’re making a payment and they have their car towed in,” he said.
Police don’t tow people out of their driveways and even if a police cruiser license-plate reader marks someone as being on the tow list. They’ll only pull them over if they’re committing another violation of some kind.
Many of the top offenders on the tow list also have multiple officer-issued traffic citations listed in municipal court records. Wolford said they often ignore those, too, and a judge will rarely lock them up for long for ignoring speeding tickets even when they’re issued by police.
“We have guys that have 20 (bench warrants) for traffic violations, and we still haven’t caught them, either,” he said.