Illinois Department of Transportation officials are investigating whether a veteran highway maintenance employee misused department letterhead and violated department policies to get out of a $100 red-light camera ticket issued by Hanover Park police.
Meanwhile, Hanover Park leaders and suburban legislators are questioning why the department let the IDOT employee off the hook at all.
"To me, it's highly unusual," Hanover Park Mayor Rodney Craig said. "As a matter of policy, that should not be occurring."
It is very unusual for anyone to get out of a red-light camera ticket in Hanover Park, according to police. Deputy Police Chief Tom Cortese said only one such ticket has been dismissed in the past two years -- the one issued to the IDOT vehicle.
The incident came to light as part of a Daily Herald investigation.
Cortese would not explain why the citation was canceled. He said there are "numerous exemptions in our policy."
According to the village's red-light camera ordinance, though, there are exactly four "defenses" to fight a red-light camera ticket. The ordinance states tickets will be dismissed if the car or license plates were stolen, if the driver passed through the intersection to yield right of way to an emergency vehicle or is part of a funeral procession, if the driver was directed to pass through the intersection by a police officer, or if the driver already received a written citation for the offense by an officer.
"When the officer spoke with the IDOT representative and reviewed the letter on the IDOT letterhead, it was the officer's conclusion that it was an exemption," Cortese wrote in an email response to questions about the dismissed ticket.
So what was in the letter that spurred the dismissal of the ticket and caused Hanover Park police to disregard photographic and video evidence that shows the orange IDOT Ford truck running a red light on eastbound Lake Street at Barrington Road while other vehicles heading in the same direction slow to a stop?
"To who it may concern: On May 29th, 2013, the state truck, plate number U7838 was performing state duties from 6:30A to 3:00P," wrote Jim Frederick, a highway maintenance lead worker employed by the agency for 16 years, on official department letterhead.
Video of the violation shows no roadwork occurring in or around the intersection at the time the truck drove through the red light.
State Rep. Marty Moylan, a Des Plaines Democrat who sits on the House transportation committee, said he asked that the committee discuss the incident when the state legislature returns to session in October. He also suggested closing any loopholes that may allow certain vehicles to be exempt from red-light camera enforcement.
"I don't agree that any other public vehicle other than emergency vehicles should be treated any differently than citizen vehicles," he said.
It's unclear if Frederick, a 66-year-old Bartlett resident, was the driver of the vehicle that ran the red light.
Frederick refused to answer questions about the violation when reached at home by phone and suggested calling IDOT officials
"I'm not going to talk to you about it," he said.
Despite repeated requests to IDOT for the identity of the driver and whether Frederick was authorized to use department stationery, agency officials never responded. Department Secretary Anne Schneider could not be reached for comment because she is out of the office all week, staff members in Springfield said. John Webber, the agency's communications director, could not be reached, either, because he is at a conference, other IDOT staff said.
IDOT spokeswoman Jae Miller would not say if Frederick was the driver or if he was authorized to use department letterhead, but she did acknowledge the department was looking into any improprieties.
"The department has zero tolerance for any misconduct or misuse of department materials," she wrote in an email response to questions about the citation. "This allegation is under investigation and we will take quick action if any misconduct is found."
It appears the citation was never properly reported to agency hierarchy. When the Daily Herald sought details of the citation through a Freedom of Information Act request, the agency reported that no such ticket existed. A copy of the citation, the letter from Frederick and video footage of the violation were provided through a similar document request made to the Hanover Park Police Department.
According to IDOT's "Vehicle Operator's Manual," drivers are responsible for paying any fines and court costs related to moving violation citations and must report such citations within "five working days of receipt." Miller would not say what, if any, disciplinary action would stem from failure to properly report the citation.
State Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican who also sits on the House transportation committee, called the situation "troubling."
"I don't know that there are any reasonable reasons to run a red light," he said. "Whether you're in an IDOT vehicle or personal vehicle, why they would void the ticket is beyond me. I don't understand any public benefit for an IDOT vehicle to run a red light. Anyone running a red light poses significant danger to others. The fact that (the driver) worked for IDOT should make them even more careful about running a red light."