KINGSPORT, TN (WJHL) – Red light and speed cameras caught roughly 30 government/agency vehicles running red lights or speeding over the course of a year, according to traffic camera citations. Video and images of the violations show everything from non-emergency ambulances to transit buses and garbage trucks breaking the law. In one case, the violation cost a driver her job.
Our review of more than 16,000 citations from Kingsport and Jonesborough found a handful of people who work for area agencies and the local, state and federal government violating the rules of the road.
With 11 red light tickets in 2015, Kingsport had the most citations of all of the agencies we reviewed. Those citations involved employees driving garbage trucks, transit buses and other trucks. With a fleet of almost 600 vehicles that travels roughly 7,000 miles apiece every year, a Kingsport Police Department spokesperson says it’s bound to happen. However, Public Information Officer Tom Patton says the city does not pass the cost of the offenses on to taxpayers.
“Obviously, we don’t want to see anybody running red lights, let alone a city employee, but we certainly know that nobody’s perfect,” Patton said. “If they do get a citation it is their responsibility to pay that citation.”
According to Patton, all of Kingsport’s citations were the result of first-time offenses. He thinks they’ve all learned their lesson.
“Hopefully the citation will be a wake-up call and be enough to correct the problem,” he said.
Among the others ticketed in Kingsport, according to public records, were five Sullivan County vehicles, a few state vehicles, one from East Tennessee State University and two from the Army National Guard.
“No tickets have been paid by the county and each elected official or department head handles any issued to their respective areas,” Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said about his county’s tickets. “I have not seen any recent repeat offenders in my area of authority.”
Kingsport’s cameras also caught a Hawkins County ambulance and four Church Hill EMS ambulances running red lights. Church Hill EMS President Fred Arnold says all four of his agency’s cases were non-emergencies and apparently, none of the ambulances had patients onboard.
“If an ambulance runs a red light and if there’s no patient onboard the employee pays it and if they pay it there’s no disciplinary action,” Arnold said. “We do not pay red light tickets if there’s no patient on board.”
Hawkins County EMS Director Wayne Elam says in the one case involving his agency, there also wasn’t a patient onboard the non-emergency ambulance.
“The driver of this ambulance was a new person to (the) profession and was not employed with us long,” Elam said. “As the citation shows, the driver was 8 mph below the speed limit and when she went through the light it had been red (for) 0.2 seconds. They stated that they had vehicles behind them and she was afraid to stop suddenly for the possibility of being rear-ended and was also concerned about the equipment in the unit getting damaged. The other crew member confirmed that she was below the speed limit before and after and also had noted a concern of slow speeds throughout the trip. After evaluation of the citation the driver was deemed responsible for payment and driving training reviewed and reevaluated by management staff.”
The Town of Jonesborough’s traffic cameras track both red light and speeding violations. Cameras there caught a Dawn of Hope van carrying people with disabilities running a red light. With a zero tolerance policy, Executive Director Lee Chase told us the driver lost her job. According to Chase, there were three service recipients on board the Dawn of Hope van at the time.
Jonesborough’s cameras also caught two Net Trans vans running red lights.
Net Trans Transportation Deputy Director Candace Gump says she was only aware of one of the cases and in that situation, she says the employee received a warning and paid the ticket.
“(The employee) received a warning from his supervisor and he paid his citation in a timely manner,” Gump said. “Also, there were not any clients being transported on either of the vehicles on the date/time listed.”
In addition to those vehicles, the town’s cameras caught two Jonesborough employees running red lights.
“With respect to the truck, the employee received a verbal reprimand and personally paid the citation,” Public Safety Director Craig Ford said. “With respect to the car, the employee paid the citation and received a verbal reprimand. In both incidents, the department heads had a staff meeting and reminded their entire staff that they were representing the town and were to constantly be on their guard.”
Mayor Kelly Wolfe says if the behavior continues the town can take more formal action.
“As far as the town employees having issues, I think it’s very, very minor,” Mayor Wolfe said.
Officials admit occasionally their employees do make mistakes, but they say the violations also show they treat their employees just like any other driver. In fact, in Jonesborough, even the mayor got a ticket in 2015.
“It was pretty early in the morning, I had a lot going on that day and I was out, probably around 6 am and I thought, ‘Golly, what have I done?'” Mayor Wolfe said about his speeding camera citation. “I paid it. I think that’s probably the appropriate example that you’d want folks to follow. I paid it and paid it promptly, because I didn’t want anybody to say I even lingered paying it. I think it’s part of it. If you break the law you face the law and move on.”
The local governments report there are clear consequences for people who receive multiple tickets. Officials say they are hopeful that kind of disciplinary action won’t be necessary in the future.
To Kingsport and Jonesborough’s credit, they supplied the records we requested for this report. The City of Johnson City did not, citing confidentiality concerns from state law relayed to management and us by the Tennessee Open Records Counsel.
A Johnson City spokesperson told us, to the city manager’s knowledge, not a single city employee received a red light ticket during the time frame we requested.
Three months ago, traffic camera records also identified school buses, some of them carrying students, running red lights.
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