| | RVerís BEWARE! Kangaroo Court in Dandridge, TN
We were heading back to North Carolina, east on Hiway 40 (Dec 21, 2011), after a summer in the West with our motorhome and towing a jeep wrangler. Itís late at night, raining hard, and all the rest stops are full with truckers. We take an off- ramp to Dandridge, TN Exit 417), and stop for a red light at the bottom of the ramp in the left hand turn lane to turn left onto Highway 92 north. Only a flatbed tow- truck is in front of us at the signal. We are both waiting for the left turn light to turn green. It does and we both proceed into the intersection. The intersection is not well lit and without any markings on the pavement to show the left turn lane. Itís still raining and visibility is limited to the point of making it difficult to negotiate the left turn into the appropriate lane. We proceed slowly behind the truck while it is also having trouble negotiating the unmarked turn lane. No cars are to our left are waiting for the light to change. We completeh the turn and almost immediately, we see flashing lights in our side mirrors. We stop at the first turn (Patriot Dr) left that accesses a fast-food and gas station area. An officer comes to our side door on the motor home, adjacent to the lane of moving traffic, and knocks loudly. He does not approach the driverís window on the curb side, away from traffic. My wife answers the coach door and the officer asks if we know why he stopped us. We said no. He said we ran a red light. We said we didnít understand, although we did see the light turn yellow while we were proceeding slowly into the intersection and finishing our left hand turn. We suggest that we complete our turn into the concessions area so he wouldnít have to stand next to a traffic lane in the rain and darkness. Agreeing, he returned to his vehicle and followed us a short distance into a lot behind a Hardees. I accompanied the officer back to his patrol car where he informed me that because I argued with him about running the red light, and so much time was now spent on this stop, he was going to have to write me a ticket instead of a warning. Another officer joined us at that time, not saying much but spitting on the ground every few seconds while he stood directly in front of me a few feet away. I explained that we had to move slowly through the intersection due to the slow truck in front of us, the poor markings on the pavement, and the poor visibility due to the rain, darkness, and poorly lit intersection. The accompanying officer replied that all intersections and red lights were basically the same? I continued to explain to both officers that we had only one vehicle in front of us when the turn light changed to green and we saw the light change to yellow only as we were finishing our left-hand turn. The officer said that they had us on camera and there was no question that we ran a red light. Somewhat sarcastically, I said that we also had a camera on our motor home, and we do. This statement was subsequently used in court as an example of my aggressive behavior (as described to the judge by the accompanying officer; see below). The officer writing the citation noted in his report that our estimated speed was 3 mph and traffic was light (actually non-existant). The ticketing officer asked several times if I was going to come back to Dandridge for the court hearing or pay the fine by mail. I said we would return because we knew we hadnít ran a red light.
The ďKangarooĒ Court
We appeared in court in Dandridge on May 4, 2011, at 5 pm. We mistakenly went to the Municipal Court downtown and had to rush to the City Court located on a Highway outside town. We were the only people there, along with a judge, a town administrator, the police officer that issued the ticket, and the other officer that arrived on the scene later. The atmosphere was very informal (difficult to tell which person was the Judge) and we sat at folding tables and chairs across from one another. The judge was a women dressed very casually. We were all sworn in and ask how we wanted to plea. After some confusing and abbreviated explanation by the judge, I decided on the option of having the judge decide our case. Much of the following question/answer period was taken up by the testimony of the citing officer, the town administrator and the judge asking us such questions as what the length of a semi-trailer was, or if I knew the length of the tow truck in front of us at the signal. The issuing officer did admit that he was going to give us a warning until I argued about the ticket, and the late-arriving officer said I was arguing Ďaggressivelyí. Then the judge persisted with questions about when exactly did the light turn yellow or red. I stated several times that the light turned yellow while we were in the intersection, and I never saw it turn red while we were turning. My wife was not allowed to speak or verify my answers while I was answering questions, only when I was finished answering questions.
The judge ruled that we were guilty of running the red light because our testimonies were not consistent with one another regarding when the light turned yellow. Also, she stated that she didnít believe that the issuing officer would have stopped us while it was raining unless we actually committed a traffic violation. We couldnít believe what we were hearing. Our only thoughts were that the judge must not have understood that we started into the intersection after the light turned green, with one vehicle in front of us, i.e. we entered the intersection on a green, not yellow, light. We also said several times that the light turned yellow while we were in the intersection.
Upon arriving home in NC, I called a lawyer in Knoxville, TN, and he informed us that the Dandridge area was a notorious speed trap, well known by people in eastern TN. He also wondered why the judge did not read the police report and why she didnít ask for the video (if one actually existed). Even though we were the only people in the court room, she stated at the very beginning that she hadnít read the police report.
And justice was served in Dandridge, TN.
Judge: Rebecca Slone; Town Administrator: James Hutchins; Officer that issued ticket: Devotie.