Each day in Star Valley, one in every 286 motorists drives fast enough to trigger one of four photo enforcement cameras positioned strategically along Highway 260.
Michele Ann Power of Chandler was one of those drivers. While heading through town on a sunny July afternoon in 2009, her vehicle tripped a camera and a few weeks later, she got a ticket in the mail for speeding.
Outraged, Power decided to fight the ticket.
Last week, Power argued her case in front of Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill in a Payson courtroom and won.
Cahill reversed the decision of the Star Valley Magistrate Court and dismissed the traffic complaint against Power.
“Oh my God, I am so ecstatic,” Power said in a telephone interview.
Power argued that because the town of Star Valley failed to provide someone to cross-examine in court, the ticket is dismissible.
Now, another person has filed an appeal of their ticket.
Cahill would not comment on his ruling.
Star Valley Town Manager/Attorney Tim Grier said this is the first time a Star Valley photo enforcement ticket recipient orally argued their case in an appeals hearing.
Of the thousands of tickets issued since the cameras were installed beginning in January of 2008, only a handful of motorists have appealed the magistrate’s ruling, Grier said.
Power was one of the few to have her ticket dismissed. Grier disagreed with the decision.
“The fact is, Michele Power put others in danger and she got away with it on a technicality,” he said.
Grier believes one of the issues that influenced Cahill’s ruling is the fact that the photo enforcement officer who issued Power’s citation no longer works for the town.
When the town issued Power’s ticket, Nofi Barak-Turner worked as the town’s photo enforcement officer. Since then, Turner has moved to Israel and Sharon Rappaport took over the position.
When Power asked to cross-examine someone about her ticket at trial, the town did not have anyone to answer those questions, since Turner had left.
Arguing without an attorney, Power said since the town could not certify the complaint, the court should dismiss it.
Unfortunately, Turner does not work here anymore and it meant someone got away with speeding, Grier said.
“She (Power) got the dumb luck of her (Turner) being out of the country,” Grier said. “But she broke the law and got away with it. She put herself and others at danger.”
Power’s traffic citation found she was going 56 mph when she came into town. Star Valley’s posted speed limit is 45 mph. The cameras go off when a motorists is traveling 11 mph over the limit.
Power believes she was only going 45 mph.
RedFlex Traffic Systems calibrates the cameras and maintains them for accuracy. When a camera takes a photo, three employees at RedFlex inspect it and, using information from the DMV, verify that the driver matches the photo.
Based on gender, height, weight, hair and eye color, employees can normally determine if the driver matches the vehicle’s registration information.
If the town does not receive a response after mailing the ticket, a representative physically serves it. Power was served at her Chandler home.
“We have the right to serve in state and out,” Grier said.
“In Power’s case, I have no doubt that she was driving at the time,” he said.
Officially served, Power decided to fight the ticket. When Star Valley Magistrate Judge John Huffman found her responsible, Power appealed the ruling.
“When they came out with photo enforcement down here, I immediately started researching it,” she said.
Nearly two years after getting her ticket, Power argued her case in front of Cahill.
Power said she opposes the cameras in general and believes towns are using them illegally.
When Star Valley issued her ticket, no one was there to witness the alleged speeding. Without a witness, Power had no one to cross-examine in court.
“The only eye witness was me, and that is why these cameras are so messed up,” she said.
Power believes towns and cities are only using the cameras to make money, not to improve safety.
“They are for revenue only because they are not keeping the drunk drivers off the streets,” she said. Grier disagreed.
Since the cameras were installed in Star Valley, speed-related accidents have drastically decreased, he said.
The average speed of vehicles going by the cameras is 42 to 45 mph.
“Statistics have shown in many places, including Star Valley, the cameras help. We have had no (speed-related) fatalities since they were put in,” he said. “They do make things safer.”
A November 2007 study by the Arizona Department of Transportation found traffic speeds and crashes dropped on Loop 101 in Scottsdale after cameras were in place. Traffic speeds dropped by about 9 mph and all types of crashes declined except for rear-end crashes, where the change was not statistically significant, ADOT concluded.
In Star Valley, most speeding accidents involve wildlife, mainly elk crossing the highway.
Since the town had the cameras installed, those accidents have decreased, although Grier did not have any numbers to prove this.
“I adamantly believe Star Valley is a safer place,” he said. “Traffic goes slower through Star Valley and you can see it. I don’t know how anyone could argue against that.”
Grier believes if Star Valley’s cameras have saved one life, then they are worth it.