When a suburban mother got a red-light ticket in her mailbox last fall, she knew that the citation had to be a mistake, and with the help of NBC 5 Responds, she was able to contest it, and to win.
The citation that arrived in Sherri Eggett’s mailbox in the fall of 2020 just had to be a mistake, she says. The date of the violation at a red light on South Archer Avenue was dated in Sept. 2020, when she was 36 weeks pregnant and at home in Naperville, on full lockdown.
“I was not at that intersection in the city,” she says. “My doctor told me not to go to work, if I could avoid it. Even my parents couldn’t visit.”
Eggett says she couldn’t have been in the car caught on-camera in the violation. The car in the violation photograph was clearly an Audi Q7, but Eggett drives a GMC Acadia.
With that glaring mistake at the center of the violation, Eggett says she did not worry much about the fine. And at just about 7 months pregnant, also did not contemplate trying to contest the ticket in-person.
“And so I definitely wasn't going to go to a courthouse, with COVID, and all that,” she told NBC5 Responds. “Definitely wasn't going to court over this thing that I didn't even do.”
Eggett says when she contested the ticket by mail, she explained that the car in the violation was not hers, and the plate on that car was different than her plate by one letter: Sherri’s starts with “BM” and the Audi’s is “BW.” She says she thought that would end this episode.
She was wrong.
“My mom saw a report you guys had done with someone in a very similar situation where the plate's M and the W were flip-flopped,” she says, which is why she reached out to NBC5 Responds.
That someone in a very similar situation was Greg Landgraf, of Gurnee, whose story aired on NBC5 Responds last spring.
“Nobody at the City of Chicago or finance division was able to do anything or willing to do anything about it,” Greg said, of the “M” and “W” issue that landed him a red light violation for a car he never owned, connected to a license plate he had recently retired.
Chicago Attorney Jacie Zolna says cases like Sherri Eggett’s and Greg Landgraf’s should never happen, given how the Illinois Vehicle Code was designed, for decades.
“If a license plate doesn’t match the make/model of the vehicle, you’re not supposed to issue that ticket, because obviously the plate was wrong- or, in this case, misread,” Zolna said.
But instead of adhering to that requirement, Zolna says, the City sought a change in that part of the law from the Illinois General Assembly. And in 2019, that’s what they got.
The code originally required both the vehicle make and registration number to be included on a violation ticket, to protect drivers from possible errors. Newly revised, the code now allows ticket-issuers to include just one identifier.
We asked the three state lawmakers who authored the revision why the loosening of the law was necessary. State Sen. Omar Aquino and State Rep. Jay Hoffman did not comment.
State Sen. Ram Villivalam did respond to our questions, saying the change was intended to "improve accuracy and efficiency."
Villivalam says he not part of the initial deliberations that led to the revision of that portion of the Illinois Vehicle Code.
Which leads directly back to Naperville, and the driver who thought a ticket so blatantly wrong, the City would easily correct this red light camera mistake.
“It's upsetting to think that other people who might not have the resources just get scared into paying fines that they shouldn't have to pay,” Eggett said.
The City never located the rightful owner of the Audi Q7 in that red-light violation, but NBC5 Responds did. The Black Q7 SUV that appeared in the red-light violation was owned by a suburban dealership, which says it was never ticketed.
After we flagged the error, and with help of the Illinois Secretary of State’s office, Eggett’s ticket was wiped out.