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FOX 8 Defenders: Thousands of summer drivers hit with hefty school zone tickets

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Schools have been out for summer break for weeks now, yet we're learning thousands of drivers got hit with hefty school zone traffic violations at one Canal Street location.

Annette Johnson lives in St. Bernard, but commutes to New Orleans every day for work. "The ticket is $160," Johnson said. But she was surprised when she got hit with a city traffic violation.

"They said I was speeding in a school zone. They said I was going 36 miles in a school zone," she said. Normally, driving 36 in a 20-mph school zone would be considered speeding, especially at 8:28 in the morning, which is when a camera snapped Johnson's picture on Canal Street near the cemeteries at City Park Ave. The problem is when the violation laid out she was breaking the law.

"On 6/2 of 2016," explained Johnson. We checked, and school has been out at St. Anthony of Padua in that area since May 18. Across the street, May 27 was the last day for class, according to Pierre Capdau Charter School's website. The playground was quiet. We couldn't find a student in sight. 

Remember, the traffic camera snapped a picture of Johnson's SUV June 2, six days after Pierre Capdau wrapped up classes for summer break. "I really wanna know why, so FOX 8 Defenders was the first one I called," Johnson said.  "And I really don't believe it to be fair because there's no school in session so why is the lights still on and why are you still issuing out tickets if there's no school at this time?" she asked.

In May, a FOX 8 Lee Zurik investigation found that more than half of the school zone lights in the city were totally dead, not working correctly or going off at the wrong time. "It's a constant challenge. We've got resources, we go out, we assess the conditions, we respond to reports, we do whatever we can to make the system work and keep it operational," Lt. Col. Mark Jernigan explained in May.

In Johnson's case, the lights were flashing at the right time, but shouldn't have been flashing at all on that day since school is out. It appears now the flashers have since been turned off.

NOPD officers actually serve as a second set of eyes, reviewing each ticket, but this one still got approved. Keep in mind, officers scan thousands of violations every week according to the special operations division for traffic.

The FOX 8 Defenders have learned that Annette Johnson is not alone. The city tells us that after the school year ended May 27, tickets were issued in error and have been dismissed.

Again, we checked, and Johnson's violation remains active in the system. She's contesting the violation and requesting a hearing. "I have to miss maybe a full day of work, all depends on when the hearing is set for and how long it's going to be," Johnson said.  A city mistake that's already cost this consumer her time. 

The city's press secretary emailed us this afternoon, saying the school zone traffic safety camera on Canal street at North Olympia westbound was originally scheduled to be deactivated on June 2.  Because the last day of school in the area was May 27, "...a total of 3,232 traffic tickets were issued in error," said the mayor's press secretary, Hayne Rainey. "The city's traffic safety camera vendor ATS has dismissed these tickets and updated their records to reflect that," explained Rainey.  He said any tickets paid will be refunded. 

Johnson meantime may still need to pay up, just not as much.  The camera ticket said she was traveling one mile above the regular posted speed.  

For more information about the traffic safety camera program, how to pay a violation or to contest a violation, click here.

The FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women also field consumer complaints at 1-877-670-6397 or you can fill out an online complaint form. 

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