TAMARAC, Fla. - A Local 10 investigation found that drivers in Tamarac racing to the emergency room are being ticketed by one of the city's red-light cameras.
The city is making those violators pay the fine, even though they were having real medical emergencies.
Jacob Alcahe was worried he was having a heart attack, so he rushed himself to University Hospital in Tamarac.
"I really couldn't breathe, I was sweating, just a lot of things going on," said Alcahe.
A few weeks later, Alcahe said he experienced similar symptoms when he received a $158 ticket in the mail. It appears the camera on University Drive at Northwest 72nd Street captured him running the red light at the entrance to the hospital.
"I was just kind of scared and I wanted to get to the hospital as soon as possible," said Alcahe.
To make matters worse, the city's magistrate refused to dismiss the ticket even after he showed them his discharge papers from the hospital.
"I went to the hearing and they just told me it wasn't a good enough excuse," Alcahe said.
Fort Lauderdale ticket attorney Ted Hollander, of The Ticket Clinic, believes the city put the camera there specifically to nab drivers so desperate for medical help, they'd run a red light.
"I've been a lawyer a long time and I've really never seen a city do something that's so greedy, in my opinion," said Hollander.
Hollander questions the state system that requires cities to pay their magistrates salaries.
"The person that's acting as the judge is paid by Tamarac," said Hollander. "Tamarac is the same city that's giving the ticket so why wouldn't that person say, of course, Tamarac gets the money?"
"Because if she doesn't?" asked Local 10's Roger Lohse.
"She will probably lose her position," Hollander said.
The red-light camera on University Drive near the hospital is one of nine red-light cameras in Tamarac. The cross street is Northwest 72nd Street and it's a two-lane road. The city calls it one of its most dangerous intersections, yet there's only one camera there: it points north, where it can catch drivers turning left into the hospital.
Tamarac Mayor Harry Dressler said, "The city is not condoning, neither are we preying on anyone."
Dressler told Local 10 the city is only trying to keep drivers safe and stands by the magistrate who, to date, has upheld at least two violations issued to emergency room patients.
"So if you're headed to the emergency room here in Tamarac and you're having trouble breathing, wait for the light to turn green?" asked Lohse.
"OK, it's two minutes before my meeting. You're going to have to excuse me. Please tell your viewers it's illegal and it's dangerous," Dressler said.
"I was very surprised. I didn't think it was right," said Alcahe.
It turns out Alcahe was just having a panic attack. He's fine now but said the $283 fine and fee he had to pay for racing to the hospital that day still stings.
"I would understand why they would have it at other streets, but the fact that it was at that turning signal for people that have emergencies each day, I just think that's wrong, that's not fair," said Alcahe.
The city said it has issued 494 red-light violations at that intersection since the camera was turned on in August. However, city officials couldn't tell Local 10 how many of those violators were turning left into the hospital.
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