11 Investigates gets refund for driver who fought, won school bus camera citation

PITTSBURGH — 11 Investigates is getting action for a driver who says he wasn’t even in the car when he received a $300 citation for passing a stopped school bus.

His vehicle was caught by an East Allegheny district school bus camera on Route 30 in North Versailles.

>> 11 Investigates viewer complaints about school bus cameras wrongly ticketing people

“I get a citation in the mail that comes to me on a road that I wasn’t on, in a car that I never drive,” said Robbie Fitzpatrick, of Greensburg.

Fitzpatrick was surprised when he got the citation in the mail.

>> 11 Investigates digs into people wrongfully ticketed by automated cameras on school buses

From the videos and images included in the citation, he quickly discovered his son was driving the car.

“I figured out it was my son driving and things were blocked, I finally calmed down enough. I read the back of the ticket and it says that you can challenge the ticket if you weren’t the driver,” said Fitzpatrick.

His son was on the four-lane highway, and Fitzpatrick said his view of the school bus was blocked by other cars passing him.

Because he received the citation but wasn’t driving the car, Fitzpatrick decided to fight the violation.

He made the 45-minute trip to the District Justice office in North Versailles to pay the $110.32 filing fee to fight the citation.

While awaiting his hearing, he received a notice, threatening additional penalties if he didn’t pay the fine immediately.

“They sent me an overdue notice like it was going to go to collections or something,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick finally went to court in January and won his case, after showing the judge that he wasn’t even in the car at the time.

“I handed her a thing that said I was still at work when the citation happened and she threw it out, but it was still I lost probably six hours of work time and two trips to North Versailles,” said Fitzpatrick.

To make matters worse, even though he won his case, he said he was never told he was entitled to a refund of his filing fee.

“This is the one where they were showing me that it was over but I wasn’t getting any back. They never told me I was to get my money back,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick reached out to Chief Investigative Reporter Rick Earle and Earle paid a visit to the District Justice office to get some answers.

Earle: I went down there and the lady told me, she said, oh we made a mistake.

Fitzpatrick: Yeah, a $100 mistake out of my pocket.

Earle: So you’ll be getting your money back.

Fitzpatrick: That’s a beautiful thing.

Earle: It’s a frustrating process?

Fitzpatrick: Yeah, the whole thing was and again, the kids’ safety is important, but I don’t think this is a good way to do it.

The school districts involved in the program in our area, including Pittsburgh Public, have said this is a way to improve safety, not make money.

A private company, BusPatrol, installed all of the cameras, and part of the revenue from the citation goes to the private company to pay for the installation and maintenance of the camera program.

The school districts also receive a cut from the fines.

11 Investigates has received dozens of complaints from drivers who said they’ve been ticketed even though the stop arm wasn’t fully extended, or they were waived past the school bus by the driver or a crossing guard.

Many complained about the difficult process of fighting the citation, including paying a filing fee of over $100 just to contest the citation.

Drivers who lose at the District Judge level have the option of appealing again or they can just pay the $300 fine. In that case, they are out more than $400.

Drivers who win are entitled to a refund of the filing fee.

That, however, was not conveyed to Fitzpatrick when he won his case.

And 11 investigates has also just learned that some of those drivers who won in court more than a month ago are only now just beginning to get their filing fees.

As 11 Investigates has reported, tickets issued after Dec. 22, 2023, will go through a new appeals process.

Drivers won’t have to pay a filing fee now to fight the citation, and hearings will now be held virtually.

As for Fitzpatrick’s case, the clerk told Earle it was a clerical error and his money would be refunded.

She said they haven’t seen any other similar issues.

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