Tampa man's car was stolen, but red-light tickets kept coming
TAMPA - Rianey "Bud" Nelson woke up one morning in October to find his 2006 Lincoln Towncar had been stolen from his driveway. He reported the theft to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office and figured that was the last he'd see of it. But he was wrong. Nelson, 72, got another good look at his car when two red-light tickets from the Tampa Police Department arrived with photos in his mailbox. One ticket was for an offense at the intersection of Waters Avenue and Armenia Avenue. The other was for the intersection of Himes Avenue and Hillsborough Avenue. "One was eight days after the car was stolen, and one was 11 days after that," Nelson said.The car in the photo is Nelson's, but he couldn't have been behind the wheel. He figured the tickets would be quickly dismissed. He was wrong. "It just bothers me that you have to do this when certainly I wasn't at fault for anything other than owning a car," Nelson said with exasperation. He said he got a copy of the theft report and mailed it off to American Traffic Solutions in Cincinnati, the contractor that owns and operates Tampa's red light cameras. He also reported the tickets to the sheriff's office. Nelson said the tickets still weren't dismissed and a month later, he found himself with a suspended driver's license. "I think the people who own the cameras should be responsible for when they write a ticket, and after they're advised of the situation, that they should be able to squash it right there," he said. Tampa Police spokeswoman Andrea Davis apologized for Nelson's problem. "It's unfortunate if someone is dealing with the headache of having their car stolen, and then also receiving a citation in the mail," Davis said. "We don't want anyone to have to deal with that." But Nelson may not have handled the citation appropriately, she said. On the back, the ticket says a copy of the police report must accompany a copy of the ticket. "Once they send in their police report and the citation to the appropriate address, it's something that will get fixed," Davis said. Defense attorney Timothy Fitzgerald believes that's the problem with cases like Nelson's. Nelson is presumed guilty until he proves himself innocent. Fitzgerald said it should be the other way around. "It's not the citizen's burden to come forward and show evidence his car was stolen," Fitzgerald said. "They need to come forward and show evidence the citizen improperly violated one of our laws." Nelson finally got his day in court last month. The judge dismissed both tickets and Nelson got his driver's license reinstated. As for Nelson's car, Tampa Police arrested two 17-year-olds in connection with the theft. Police spotted the stolen Lincoln on North MacDill Avenue in Tampa on Nov. 24. The two teens led officers on a chase for several miles before crashing the car into a fence near Lowell Road and Dunhill Drive. Nelson would like to have seen the teens held accountable for the red light tickets, as well. "Oh, absolutely," he said.