Questions and outrage are surfacing after Tamarac, Florida decided to fine red light camera violators who were headed to the nearby hospital emergency room. So far, two such stories have been reported of drivers who were suffering from urgent symptoms and drove through the intersection’s red light for emergency medical attention.
WPLG Local 10 investigated and spoke to Jacob Alcahe. "I really couldn't breathe, I was sweating, just a lot of things going on." Alcahe thought he was having a heart attack so he drove himself in a rush to Tamarac’s University Hospital. When he got to a red light at the intersection of University Drive and Northwest 72nd Street, right at the hospital entrance, he decided to continue through. "I was just kind of scared and I wanted to get to the hospital as soon as possible," explained Alcahe. After he was treated for what turned out to be a panic attack, Mr. Alcahe found a $158 red light camera violation in his mailbox. Certainly, the city would forgive the violation and understand that Alcahe’s condition at the time merited the rush through the red light, right? Nope. He presented his hospital discharge paperwork at the hearing, but said, "They told me that it wasn't good enough of an excuse."
WKMG Local 6 reported about another case at the beginning of February. Shelley Rappaport was experiencing severe pain when she made her way to University Hospital. She recalled, "I was throwing up. I was doubled over. I didn't know what it was.” Sure that she needed to get seen by a doctor as soon as possible, she urged the friend driving her to the hospital to continue through the red light because of the emergency circumstances. "Lou said to me, 'Should I wait?' And I said, 'Go.' I mean it was terrible," explained Rappaport. When the road was clear, he continued through the red light to the ER.
Hospital staff discovered that a kidney stone was causing Ms. Rappaport’s pain. After it passed, she received a $158 fine for the red light camera violation. Despite Rappaport telling the hearing officer that the matter was, “…literally a life or death situation,” Tamarac-paid magistrate would not dismiss the violation. The officer said, "Ma'am I understand you're frustrated, but under the statute 316.0083, that's not a defense to running a red light so I do have to find that you're in violation. But I will give you 90 days to pay the $283 (fine and fees)."
WPLG notes that Tamarac has nine red light cameras. While the city calls the hospital intersection one of its most dangerous, there is only one camera pointing north. It’s the perfect direction to catch any drivers turning left into the hospital past a red light. The station spoke to attorney Ted Hollander from The Ticket Clinic who said, "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." He feels that the camera was strategically placed to bust those desperate drivers on their way to the ER. Hollander also feels that the city-paid magistrate has a conflict of interest in deciding these cases. "The person that's acting as the judge is paid by Tamarac. Tamarac is the same city that's giving the ticket so why wouldn't that person say, ‘Of course, Tamarac gets the money?’"
Harry Dressler, mayor of Tamarac told WPLG’s reporter Roger Lohse, "The city is not condoning, neither are we preying on anyone." Lohse asked the mayor, "So if you're headed to the emergency room here in Tamarac and you have an emergency, wait for the light to turn green?" To which Mayor Dressler replied, "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."
The camera at the hospital intersection, turned on in August, has led to 494 violations being issued. It’s unclear how many others were given to those headed to the ER.