Speed camera photos of the man in the monkey and giraffe masks have generated lots of chuckles. But the cops aren't laughing.
Dave VonTesmar, 47, started getting the $181.50 tickets last year, but it took Arizona state police several months to realize the same driver was repeatedly triggering speed cameras and refusing to pay the fines. By the time they did, more than 50 of the tickets had become invalid because the deadline for prosecution had passed.
VonTesmar, who has now amassed $6,7000 in fines, is fighting each citation by claiming he wasn't behind the wheel.
In Arizona, people who receive photo-enforcement tickets in the mail have four options: Agree they were driving and pay the fine, say they weren't driving and send in their driver's license photo as proof, request a court date and fight the ticket, or simply ignore the ticket because law enforcement can't prove they received it. The ticket becomes invalid if a violator who ignores it isn't served in person within three months.
On Aug. 19, DPS served VonTesmar in person with 37 tickets, mostly between 11 and 15 mph over the speed limit. The pictures accompanying the tickets show a driver wearing either a monkey or giraffe masks in VonTesmar's white Subaru, which has black-and-white checkered racing stickers on its sides and a sticker on the windshield that reads "Bucktooth Racin'."
'Peaceful act of resistance'
"It's a peaceful act of resistance — that's what this country was founded on," VonTesmar, a flight attendant, said from Houston. "I'm not thumbing my nose at DPS, but photo radar is not a DPS officer protecting public safety. It's nothing but a speed tax."
VonTesmar didn't deny that he was the driver wearing the masks. But he did say, "They can't prove I was operating the vehicle. You've got to identify the driver, and if you can't it's not a valid ticket."
But like other people DPS refers to as "frequent fliers," VonTesmar received some special attention.
Agency spokesman Bart Graves said DPS has surveillance photos of VonTesmar putting on masks before driving and believes that they will convince justice court judges in three area cities that he was the one behind the wheel and must pay his tickets.
"We have pretty strong evidence against him," Graves said. "We're just asking for his fines to be paid."
Graves said that VonTesmar has repeatedly endangered public safety and that DPS is taking his case very seriously.
VonTesmar, who said he simply drives with the flow of traffic, said if DPS does have surveillance photos of him on the road, it proves he's not a danger to other drivers. If he was, DPS would have pulled him over, he said.
Speed cameras quite unpopular
Since the speed cameras began snapping photos of drivers going 11 mph or more over the speed limit, the backlash against them has been fairly constant. Arizonans have used sticky notes, Silly String and even a pickax to sabotage the cameras.
Then, on April 19, speed-enforcement van operator Doug Georgianni was shot to death on a Phoenix freeway. Thomas Patrick Destories, a 68-year-old Phoenix man charged with first-degree murder in the death, has pleaded not guilty.
Arizona began deploying the stationary and mobile cameras on state highways on Sept. 26, 2008, and through Sept. 4 had issued more than 497,000 tickets. Of those, about 132,000 recipients had paid the fine of $165 plus a 10 percent penalty, netting the state more than $23 million.
Many of the remaining tickets are either new, being appealed or have just been ignored. The state didn't have figures immediately available on the breakdown.
Three separate citizens groups are targeting the cameras in initiatives for the 2010 ballot.
Shawn Dow, chairman of the Arizona Citizens Against Photo Radar, one of the groups targeting the cameras, said he's not sure whether VonTesmar has affected their cause.
"It is very funny," he said. "In one sense it shows how silly this whole thing is, so you know I'm glad he's using a sense of humor. The fact that he did it 90 times, I don't want to drive around the guy."
Dow said he finds it interesting that DPS conducted surveillance on VonTesmar.
"They're out staking out a guy with a monkey mask?" he said. "They watched him break the law and didn't do anything about it? If they had pulled him over, they could have pulled the mask off. It just proves photo radar is not about safety, it's about money."
DPS officials say the photo-enforcement program is designed to slow drivers down and keep the roads safer.