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News Maryland Sun Investigates

Balto. Co. sent speed camera ticket to wrong motorist

Canton resident Emily Fusting knew right away that Baltimore County had the wrong person when she got a $40 speed camera ticket in the mail recently. She drives a gray Hyundai hatchback. The car nabbed by the county camera on Kenilworth Drive? A dark-colored sedan.

“If anybody took any time here, it would be clear this is not my car,” said Fusting, 24, a judicial clerk.

While her license plate appears similar to the tag on the car that triggered the camera Jan. 28, it’s hard to tell because the photo from the county’s camera is blurry.

On Wednesday county officials acknowledged their mistake. “This vehicle does not appear to belong to Ms. Fusting,” police spokeswoman Elise Armacost wrote in an email.

Armacost said three people, including a county police officer, must review every potential citation prior to issuance. “The officer and the two others who reviewed this one felt that it was clear enough to identify a license plate number and that the vehicle was a Hyundai,” Armacost said.

Such mistakes are “relatively infrequent,” she said. The county issues about 15,000 speed camera tickets a month but typically gets just six or seven complaints from motorists claiming the cited car isn’t theirs. She said motorists are encouraged to contact the county if they believe an error has occurred.

Fusting’s case of mistaken identity comes as the General Assembly considers a range of changes to the state’s speed camera law, including a ban on the so-called “bounty” payment system to vendors and steep fines against operators that issue erroneous tickets.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore City Council is pursuing an investigation into circumstances behind a secret audit of the city’s speed camera system. The study, a copy of which was obtained by The Baltimore Sun, found error rates in city speed cameras much higher than city officials have acknowledged — often because the vehicle didn’t appear to be going the speed alleged.

Driver advocacy group AAA Mid-Atlantic has called for audits in other Maryland jurisdictions that use speed cameras. Baltimore County officials have said an audit isn’t needed. Spokeswoman Ellen Kobler noted last month that “a small, highly trained staff of sworn officers carefully reviews each individual citation for accuracy.”

Armacost said the county will notify Fusting by mail that her citation has been voided.

Fusting said she's glad she won’t have to take time off from work to contest the ticket in court, something she says she would have done on principle. “But I also think it’s good to bring awareness to the fact that several people reviewed this and thought it was fine,” she said.

scalvert@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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