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Woman beats Maryland ticket when town doesn't show up in court

Wednesday - 3/19/2014, 5:14am  ET

MORNINGSIDE, Md. -- Several months after WTOP Ticketbuster broke a story that caused serious questions to be asked about speed-camera accuracy in Morningside, another driver has come forward to tell her story.

Kristie, who asked we not use her last name, received a ticket on Dec. 12, 2013, from the camera at 6800 Suitland Rd.

Morningside, Md., is a town with about 2,000 residents and about 0.5 square mile between Suitland Parkway and the Capital Beltway near Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County.

As WTOP reported last November, two drivers came forward with videos showing them going the speed limit, yet still receiving speed camera tickets. WTOP was able to authenticate both videos independently.

"After I got the ticket, I started doing some research and that's when I found the WTOP articles, which said there were people contesting these tickets in Morningside," Kristie says. "When I read that, I starting thinking maybe there is something wrong with these cameras, I wondered if they are working correctly, if they are calibrated correctly."

Morningside has told WTOP that it believes the Suitland Road speed cameras are accurate because their vendor -- Brekford Corp. -- gave it an annual calibration. Nonetheless, the Baltimore Sun uncovered an independent audit from URS Corporation that found Brekford cameras in Baltimore that were calibrated still suffered equipment malfunctions and defective radars.

"I wanted to go to traffic court and ask for certain things," Kristie says. "Any type of documentation showing that the cameras were calibrated correctly. Also that they received permission from the county and also that they posted where the camera is located on their website and in a local newspaper."

Each of those documents are required to operate a speed camera program under Maryland Annotated Code § 21-809. Morningside has refused to turn over the annual calibration documents to the Maryland Drivers Alliance, and WTOP still has a pending request for county, website and newspaper records.

Kristie went to court on Feb. 12 with WTOP's articles in hand and many other documents. Judge Erik H. Nyce handled the proceedings; three people from Morningside were present. But there was an auspicious absence: the Town of Morningside itself.

Nine days after Del. Aisha Braveboy told WTOP she wanted Morningside to conduct an independent audit, and a week before Maryland lawmakers in Annapolis heard about problems in Morningside, the town did not show up to defend any of their tickets.

"Judge Nyce asked me whether I agreed or disagreed with the charges. I thought about it for a moment, then said 'disagree.' He said your ticket is dismissed and you're free to go," Kristie says.

"I was relieved. But I was also a little bit disappointed, because I didn't have my points heard, because I do feel it's really important to hold the town of Morningside accountable for all the money they're making off us," she says.

Kristie says she believes every driver can learn valuable lessons from her case.

"I think it's very clear that Morningside is in this for the money, not for the safety. So now I've stopped going down that road and I've told my friends to stop going down that road," she says.

"Don't make this easy for Morningside. Go to court. Make them spend their money to come to court and to prove their side of it. But be respectful to the judge. Get up, state your case, be brief, and then sit down."

AAA Mid-Atlantic also recommends anyone who believes a ticket is not correct should go to District Court. Sources have told WTOP that certain small municipal corporations calculate how much money it costs them to attend court in Hyattsville and whether there are enough cases to warrant it. The farther the municipal corporation is from Hyattsville, the greater the cost to the town.

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 WTOP your case - along with documentation - to ticketbuster@wtop.com.

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