Ticketbuster: Snow causes red-light camera to issue ticket in error

WASHINGTON — The D.C. region experienced a lot of snow this winter, and one driver received a red-light camera ticket as a direct result of the inclement weather.

Jose De Jesus received the ticket on Feb. 15 at 14th Street and C Street, in Northwest, at 10:37 p.m. De Jesus works overnights at a federal agency and commutes from Spotsylvania County, Virginia.

“There was black ice all over the road and a bunch of snow that was unplowed. To avoid an accident, I moved over a little bit and I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye,” De Jesus says.

As the video shows, part of his vehicle was in the right-turn lane, part in a straight lane. The light was red with a green arrow for right turns. D.C. police later concluded that De Jesus accidentally triggered the wrong sensor. However, snow and ice covered much of the right-turn lane.

“My vehicle was about 60 percent in the [straight] lane to avoid an accident and slipping on the ice [and] the snow,” says De Jesus.

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Two weeks after he filed his challenge, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) ruled against him.

“The Respondent’s vehicle failed to stop at the marked stop line on 2/15/14 at 10:37 PM at the location listed on the citation and did enter the intersection while facing a steady red signal and therefore committed the violation of passing a red light in the District of Columbia,”

writes Hearing Examiner Desiree Mathews.

“Quite honestly, I felt like there was nothing I could do,” DeJesus says. “I could appeal, but I was just under the impression that justice would not be served.”

He believes that Matthews didn’t even read the evidence he presented:

“If they looked at the evidence that I presented, it would be a very clear-cut case. It just seems like no one at the DMV even cared about it.”

He appealed the decision to the Traffic Adjudication Appeals Board. He also contacted WTOP Ticketbuster after coming across our story about federal employee John Stanton in April 2013.

WTOP Ticketbuster put DeJesus in touch with Metropolitan Police Department Program Manager Lisa Sutter. She runs the D.C. police speed, red-light, stop sign and intersection cameras and agreed to re-examine the video on the DeJesus citation. She responded within a few hours of being contacted.

“You are 100% correct, there is a green right arrow there,” Sutter wrote in an email to De Jesus. “Mr. Ashe is correct as well that your vehicle was detected because your car was halfway between the two lanes and the system thought that you were in the middle lane, which was controlled by a red light. I will void the ticket because the image isn’t clear enough to see the arrow in your violation images.”

Since snow and ice covered part of the right-turn lane, DC Police concluded that De Jesus made the best legal right turn possible under the weather conditions. DMV received the void request on April 1, meaning De Jesus should get a refund of his appeal fee in June, although his circumstances are similar to 400 other drivers who never received their refunds from D.C. DMV.

“I’m ecstatic that the ticket got voided once someone actually looked at my evidence. I’m extremely pleased with how Ms. Sutter handled it,” says De Jesus.

While it’s unclear whether other drivers received bad red-light camera tickets, the lesson from this story is that the snow can cause false positives.

“All I can say is just keep it up. I’m so happy that you’re there and that you’re an advocate for people who are in the right,” says De Jesus.

If you think you’re the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email us your case – along with documentation – to ticketbuster@wtop.com.

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