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State Legislators Not Receiving Photo Radar Tickets

Some state lawmakers avoid traffic tickets (credit: CBS)

Some state lawmakers avoid traffic tickets (credit: CBS)

Investigates
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Investigator Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4)- A CBS4 Investigation has found that 100 Colorado state senators and representatives are apparently not getting photo radar tickets in Denver, and never have, due to a loophole in the system.

“No, that does not seem fair,” said Denver Police spokesman Lt. Matt Murray after he learned what the CBS4 Investigation had found.

“If there’s a group of people not getting citations, others will feel that’s not an equitable system.”

You have probably seen those special license plates issued to state senators and representatives that identify them as a state lawmaker and the district they represent.

But it turns out those plates are not found in the standard state Department of Motor Vehicle license plate system.

“These particular plates are registered to a person, not a vehicle, therefore there is not a record of them in the DMV database,” said Daria Serna, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Revenue, which oversees the DMV.

As a result the City of Denver, which has an aggressive photo radar program that sends out millions of dollars in photo radar tickets every year, has not been able to send photo radar citations to 100 legislators whose cars have those special plates.

Mary Dulacki with the Denver Manager of Safety’s Office explained that Denver can only automatically send photo radar tickets to people whose vehicles are in the DMV database.

“However as we have learned, those plates are not registered with DMV the registered owner information is not available and no notice of violation will issue,” said Dulacki.

The problem surfaced when a woman in Canon City, Evonne Estis, began receiving photo radar tickets intended for State Senator Mike Johnston.

In about a year’s time Johnston was caught speeding six times by Denver photo radar cameras. But since his state legislative plate which bears the number “33” was not in the DMV system, Denver didn’t send out three of the violations.

The other three were sent out, but due to a glitch in the system they went to Evonne Estis who has a vanity plate on her SUV that reads “33,” her favorite number.

“It certainly did get frustrating,” said Estis, of receiving someone else’s photo radar tickets, which clearly showed she was not driving the car.

“I think if he (Johnston) would have been aware of what was going on, I think he would have taken care of it earlier. It just so happened that I was receiving the tickets.”

When CBS4 told Johnston what the investigation turned up, he took immediate action.

“These are clearly not her responsibility,” said Johnston. “I sent her a note when I apologized saying if she gets any photo radar tickets she should have them sent to me and I’ll be happy to pay them for her,” said Johnston.

Johnston told CBS4 he immediatelypaid $160 for the photo radar tickets that were inadvertently sent to Estis.

“I think Ms. Estis and I may have gotten into a funny jam where we are unique. But if it’s a systematic problem, it’s worth taking a look at,” said Johnston.

Both the DMV and Denver Police now agree there is a systematic problem that adds up to state legislators not getting Denver photo radar tickets.

“Because you have brought this to our attention we will go back and look at the process that’s in place and how we work with these local entities,” said Serna.

Murray agreed something needs to change.

“Our system works, the database works. What needs to happen is the state’s database need to be complete,” said Murray.

Johnston said he favors fixing the glitch so lawmakers are treated the same as ordinary citizens.

“I think it makes sense to bridge those two steps,” said Johnston, “And I think we have the capacity to do that.”

- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com