“I ride motorcycles and consider running lights a serious offense,” he said. “It is a cause of too many bike/auto fatalities.”
That’s why he was so surprised when he received a notice in the mail — a “Failure to Observe Signal” ticket — saying he and his truck ran a red light in Newark on July 30.
“I was making a right turn at the intersection of Doremus and Wilson avenues, an industrial area not far from Newark airport,” Gawley said. “There is a lot of heavy trucking and commercial activity in the area.”
“I had no recollection of running a light,” he said. So Gawley went to the videotape.
“I immediately noticed the video ‘skipped’ at exactly the spot the alleged violation occurred,” he said. “The video jumped forward, or skipped, as I approached the traffic stop bar in the road. The camera or computer had a malfunction of some sort, cutting out approximately 10 feet of road travel.”
Gawley said he played the video over and over to try to confirm what he was seeing, but each time, there was missing footage.
So he called the company listed on the complaint — Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix, Arizona — to ask for a review of the video.
“The lady at first denied seeing the skip, then she said she did see it, but claimed it had nothing to do with my ticket,” Gawley said. “I asked to speak to a supervisor. She also saw the skip in the video and she told me I could take it up in court, but that she would not or could not do anything about it.”
Red-light camera video of Gawley’s truck at intersection
This is the video of the red-light camera that supposedly shows Rob Gawley going through a red light. It skips at the precise spot that would show whether or not there was an infraction. Courtesy: photonotice.com
Gawley watched and rewatched the video, he said, at least 40 times.
“The missing part is bad enough. After the part where the video skips, a bit farther past the stop bar, I appear to come to a complete stop, or extremely close to it,” he said. “I believe there is not an officer in Newark who would have written me a ticket in that intersection.”
Even though he believes he’s right, Gawley said he’d probably just pay the $85 ticket. It has no points and won’t affect his insurance rates, and he said he doesn’t have the time to fight it.
“It becomes the cost of doing business for most of us, but that does not make it right,” he said. “We need to keep our roads safe, and we need to protect people from those with unsafe driving habits. I think these cameras are more about making money than about making us safe.”
A CLOSER LOOK
We reviewed the video and saw exactly what Gawley saw.
So we reached out to the City of Newark. The mayor’s spokesman told us to talk to public information officer Sgt. Ronald Glover.
We sent Glover the information to access the video.
“The officer that reviewed the tape is standing by the summons that was issued,” Glover said, noting he did not personally view the video.
Hang on, we said, explaining that the video’s missing frames were pretty clear, and thinking that anyone who saw the video would agree that something was missing.
Glover said he’d review the video and get back to us.
We’re not sure that happened because he didn’t respond to our many follow-up calls and emails.
We decided to check in with a couple of lawmakers who have been very interested in the state’s many red-light camera controversies.
Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth) has been a vocal opponent of red-light cameras in general.
We asked his opinion of the video.
“There’s no question that there is a huge gap in the evidence against this guy. In fact, there is no evidence against this guy because that part of the video is completely missing,” O’Scanlon said. “This is the tip of the iceberg. This is one person who called you. There are thousands of people this has happened to.”
O’Scanlon said for most people, it’s not worth taking a day off from work to fight an $85 or $140 ticket.
“You really have no choice but to let us steal from you,” he said. “If you claim to be a red-light camera ticket victim… 99 percent of the time we’re going to find you guilty anyway so it’s not really worth coming in and pleading a case.”
“You’re guilty until proven innocent, which isn’t how the justice system is supposed to work in this country,” O’Scanlon said.
We then sent a copy of the video to Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), who has spoken out in favor of red-light cameras.
The assemblyman was one of the original sponsors of the bill that established the pilot program for the cameras.
He also, according to a report in The Star-Ledger that cited New Jersey Election Law Enforcement records, received $2,500 in campaign contributions from 2007 to 2010 from Redflex Traffic Systems, the camera operator.
Wisniewski didn’t review the video personally, but we were contacted by his chief of staff, Tim O’Donnell.
“Police Departments are required to review each infraction recorded by a red-light camera before issuing any summons,” he said. “Any questions about the judgment used in issuing a summons should be directed to the police department making the determination. If someone is dissatisfied with a department’s response, as with any summons, the individual always has the right to challenge the summons in court.”
Of course that’s correct, but Gawley and so many like him say it’s not worth the time.
But alas, dear readers, it seems the use of red-light cameras in the state may be coming to an end.
“The pilot program in New Jersey has a merciful sunset date of Dec. 16, 2014,” O’Scanlon said. “We’re just about down to the final two months of this godforsaken program and it will die a merciful death on midnight, Dec. 16.”
That won’t help Gawley, who decided to pay the ticket last week rather than fight it.
“I just don’t have time to give up from work to save 85 bucks, even though it totally rubs me the wrong way,” he said. “The worst part was having to check off an admission of guilt. I tried to send the money electronically without checking that box, but it would not accept it. Time to move on.”
Have you been Bamboozled? Contact Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com