ORLANDO, Fla. - Chris Gelaides says he's never run a red light. But the Orlando man did receive a Notice of Violation from Orange County indicating that on February 26 he did. The fine: $158.
"I know I didn't run a light," he says.
He knows because he logged on to a website where images of infractions are stored and watched the video of his alleged violation.
"I checked the website and you can see another car running the red light, and I'm still there. And I got the notice for running the red light."
The video shows Gelaides sitting at a complete stop in the left hand turn lane at the intersection of University Boulevard and Rouse Road. As Gelaides idled, waiting for the turn signal, the driver beside him headed straight through the intersection, running the red light.
"The video doesn't lie," he says.
In fact, his license plate matches the plate on the idling car, not the plate on the moving vehicle. Gelaides didn't pay the fine. A month later, an official citation arrived. The new fine: $262.
"So now I have to lose a day of work and go to court and prove that it's a mistake," he says.
Local 6, however, reached out to Orange County on Gelaides's behalf. Krista Barber, of the county's Traffic Engineering Division, reviewed the videotape and confirmed that Gelaides was sent the citation in error. She said the camera took photos of Gelaides's vehicle and the offending vehicle; both license plates were captured.
"Those are physical people who crop the license plate out. In this instance, they cropped out the wrong plate," Barber explained.
The people she referred to are employees of American Traffic Solutions, a Tempe, Ariz., company that owns and operates Orange County's red light cameras. The incorrect data from the photos was passed on to officers in Orange County who reviewed it and decided to send out the notice to Gelaides.
"We didn't catch it when it came to us," Barber conceded.
Orange County's Traffic Engineering Division reviews between 200 and 250 potential violations a day. The work is handled by two officers, at most. Still, Barber insisted, human error is not common.
Gelaides is not convinced.
"I can almost guarantee you this has happened many, many times to innocent people," he says.
The county's own data shows that its red light cameras caught 60,641 potential violations between February 2011 and February 2012. More than half of those were rejected as non-violations (i.e. legal right on red). Another 4,050 were rejected for plates or vehicles that were either obstructed physically or by bad weather.
"It's a scam," Gelaides says.
Barber, however, defended the red light camera program. "The system works. The technology works. However, you get the human error aspect, also."
In Gelaides's case, Barber said the human error was probably the result of mistaken identity. She explained that the make, model, and color of his vehicle were very similar to the vehicle that ran the light.
Gelaides's violation has now been dismissed.
If you see an obvious error on a citation, you should call the toll-free number on the notice. If you're in Orange County, you can also dial 311 and ask for the county's Division of Traffic Engineering. Most disputes are reviewed within two days.
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