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WFTV investigation leads to hundreds of red-light tickets being thrown out in Winter Park

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Updated: 2/11 9:46 pm
WINTER PARK, Fla. -- A WFTV Channel 9 investigation has resulted in hundreds of red-light camera tickets from Winter park getting thrown out.

Reporter Racquel Asa discovered yellow lights at half of the city’s red-light camera intersections were not long enough to allow drivers to pass through them.

After Channel 9 started asking Winter Park officials about the short yellow-light times, they acknowledged that mistakes were made and agreed to refund paid tickets and dismiss others still pending.

Altogether, the city has agreed to toss more than 550 tickets issued since the start of the year, totaling nearly $90,000.

Winter Park is known for its multimillion-dollar lakefront homes, Park Avenue's boutiques and eight red-light cameras. The city is one of 75 jurisdictions across the state with the devices.

“There really should be a longer yellow light,” driver Maria Myers told Asa when she started asking about the yellow-light times.

Myers said if she had extra time the money she had to pay for a ticket would be in her pocket and not the city's.

“Do you think that would have made a difference?” Asa asked.

“Oh yeah,” Myers said. “I probably wouldn't have gotten the ticket.”

But since Jan. 1, drivers like Myers should have been getting a little extra time to clear the light.

As of Jan. 1, every traffic light with a red-light camera in the state had to start following new yellow-light times, which are all calculated based on the speed of the road.

For a road with a 35 mph speed limit, for example, the yellow light should last four seconds; for a 40 mph road, the yellow should be 4.4 seconds; and for a 45 mph road, the yellow light should be 4.8 seconds.

So Channel 9 wanted to see if our local cities were following the new rules.

We checked out seven jurisdictions. All checked out, except for Winter Park.

The investigation found half of Winter Park's red-light cameras were short-changing drivers of the extra time. In two locations -- at Lee Road and 17-92 and Lakemont Avenue and Aloma -- the yellow-light times on images obtained by Channel 9 through public records requests show they were half a second off when violations were issued.

While half a second doesn't seem like a lot of time, Asa did the math: If you're going 45 mph, you could travel more than 30 feet before you have to hit the brakes. When we measured it out, we found that's the equivalent of two mid-sized cars bumper to bumper.

Three weeks after the first violation was issued at Lakemont and Aloma avenues, our cameras found that the yellow light was still off nearly a whole second.

“I think that is a reason these tickets should be dismissed,” said Matt Aungst, a traffic attorney with the Ticket Clinic.

Aungst told us the shorter yellow light times don't match the logic of cities that insist the lights are for safety and not for profit.

“What they're doing is cutting these amber times below what the Department of Transportation is requiring and then issuing as many tickets as they possibly can,” Aungst said. “It's about money for them.”

And less for you, if you're caught.

But now following Channel 9’s investigation, Winter Park is tossing out red-light camera tickets issued from Jan. 1 to Feb. 5 at 17-92 and Lee Road; Lakemont and Aloma avenues and at Howell Branch Road and Temple Drive and Temple  Trail.

If you received a ticket and already paid, the city plans to send you a refund.

The city told Asa this was an error on its part for not complying with the new yellow-light standards.

A city spokesperson also confirmed that the city’s Public Works Department increased these yellow-light times only after Channel 9 brought it to the city’s attention.

There's no telling how long it would have gone unnoticed had Channel 9 not discovered the error.

The city issued this statement after Asa confronted officials with the data: “The city apologizes for this period of non-compliance and as of Feb. 5, all intersections are in compliance.”

What to do if you get a ticket:

The city will handle citations issued at those intersections during the time period as follows:
•Citations already paid – city will issue a refund check. (97 citations have already been paid as of 2/7/14.)
•Citations en route of payment – city will return check upon receipt.
•Online payments – upon attempt of payment online, vehicle owners will immediately receive a message that the ticket has been cancelled.
•In-person payments – clerk will notify the vehicle owner the ticket has been cancelled.

Video: WFTV Orlando
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