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Dirty license plate leads to $1,590 traffic fine

Many courts comply with the schedule of fines laid out in a document used nationwide that is known as the Traffic Violations Bureau. Here are some examples of fines with required surcharges.

Grantville Municipal Court

Decal not affixed — $160

Driving on wrong side of the road — $160

Speeding 15 to 18 mph over limit — $405

Failure to yield to emergency vehicle — $510

Cobb County State Court

Decal not affixed — $39

Driving on wrong side of the road — $155

Speeding 15 to 18 mph over limit — $173

Failure to yield to emergency vehicle — $259

Richmond County State Court

Decal not affixed — 39.13

Driving on wrong side of the road — 209.75

Speeding 15 to 18 mph over limit — 209.75

Failure to yield to emergency vehicle — 175.63

Gwinnett County Recorders Court

Decal not affixed — $45

Driving on wrong side of the road — $96

Speeding 15 to 18 mph over limit — $180

Failure to yield to emergency vehicle — $96

Norcross Municipal Court

Decal not affixed — $150

Driving on wrong side of the road — $210

Speeding 15 to 18 mph over limit — $310

Failure to yield to emergency vehicle — $210

DeKalb State Court (does not include state surcharges)

Decal not affixed — $100 (may be reduced if renewed prior to court)

Driving on the wrong side of the road — $120

Speeding 15-18 mph over speed limit — $130

Failure to yield to emergency vehicle — $120

A dirty license plate cost Linda Ford $1,590 that she can’t afford.

A Grantville police officer pulled over Ford around 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday last fall, while she was on her way to a church yard sale to raise money for homeless women. The officer pulled her over, he said, because her license place cover had too much tint. It was dirt — not tinting — blown from the car’s exhaust that made it difficult to read her plate.

It was then that the police officer for Grantville, in Coweta County, discovered she had not attached an updated decal to her plate to show her registration was current.

Ford showed the officer the decal that had been put in her glove box and forgotten. The police officer said she could explain that when she went to court.

But there are no assurances that explaining such a situation to a judge will be successful since the results of challenging a traffic ticket vary widely from state court to municipal court to recorders court across Georgia.

Some are more forgiving that others.

“Ms. Ford, you can’t forget that. You can’t forget that kind of stuff,” Grantville Municipal Court Judge Lisa Reeves said during the first of two times Ford was in court for the Sept. 5 ticket. “I can suspend your drivers license for not putting your tag on your car.”

Ford was ordered to pay $720 — nearly 29 times what other courts levy when a decal is not affixed to a car tag. She was fined as if her registration had been suspended.

Can she pay it today, the judge asked Ford during a Dec. 16 court session.

Ford didn’t have the money, right then, explaining that she just paid more than $4,800 to repair her 2011 Audi. Could she have 30 days? asked Ford, a 52-year-old Fairburn resident who is a baggage handler at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Yes. But Reeves warned Ford her fine would go up if she didn’t have the money by then.

By the next time Ford appeared in court she had only saved $480. So, as the judge had warned, Reeves increased the fine to $1,590 and put Ford on probation.

“A simple fine has gone up on you,” Reeves said when she announced the tougher punishment.

Sarah Geraghty, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights, said she was surprised that Reeves increased the fine after the sentence had been imposed.

“Not only is it heavy-handed, it’s outside the bounds of what the law permits,” Geraghty said, adding that a fine cannot be increased after a sentence is set.

Criminal attorney Steve Weiner also was surprised at the doubling of the fine, “which is something I have never heard of and I feel borders on extortion. Additionally, no judge has the authority to impose a fine for a misdemeanor of this kind greater than the statutory limit of $1,000.”

Fines vary by locale

While Ford is on probation, she must “avoid persons or places of disreputable character” and cannot move without her probation officer’s permission. She must also submit to a breath, urine or blood test if her probation officer orders one, and it will be at her expense.

“Where there is no legitimate reason for a drug test, you have to wonder why a court is ordering this test,” Geraghty said. “It’s an intrusion into people’s privacy and it burdens them with a financial obligation.”

Reeves, a part-time judge, declined to comment on the case.

Many courts issue fines provided for in the Traffic Violations Bureau, a document created 50 years ago that is still used nationwide in some jurisdictions. It lays out the fines for low-level traffic offenses such as improper backing up and parking in the wrong direction, as well as for more serious violations like speeding, running a red light or failing to yield to an emergency vehicle.

For not displaying a decal, Ford’s offense, the charge levied by courts in places like Atlanta, Cobb County and Augusta is $25 plus state surcharges that bring the total to just over $39.

But in some courts, the fines or bonds are set by the judge as is the case in Grantville, a west Georgia town of 3,145 that ranks 20th for fines issued per capita. The city fines drivers $160 for not displaying a decal. But Ford was charged a $720 fine for a suspended registration, even though it was up-to-date.

‘I didn’t have the money’

To the casual observer, municipal court hearings can be confusing and move quickly.

In Grantville on the two days that Ford attended, it was even more so.

Court documents show Ford was first charged with having a suspended registration, but it was changed to failing to display a current decal.

In court, however, Reeves would refer to Ford’s failure to affix her decal one moment and then the next say her registration had been suspended, even though Ford produced documents showing she had paid for the decal in January.

The second time Ford came to court, on Feb. 9, it was to pay the fine and she only had $480 saved.

Reeves lectured and refused to hear Ford’s reasons. The judge then more than doubled the fine and put Ford on 12 months probation.

“I tried to help her out,” the judge said to the court clerk.

Ford now pays more than $170 a month, which includes a $44 fee for a private probation company to collect the fine. Most recently, that monthly payment had to be made when her pay check for that week was only $277 because she was out of work sick for several days.

“My mortgage (payment) is up. I have (a) power (bill) and everything else,” Ford said. “I had put so much money into that Audi, it drained me. And I ended up having to get another car.”

Trooper saves infant after woman rolls vehicle

An Ohio Highway Patrol trooper rushed to put out a fire after a woman rolled her vehicle during a pursuit, and after putting out the flames he discovered an infant hanging from a seat belt in a back seat.

“I opened up the door and there’s a 4-month infant hanging from the seat belt in the back seat in a car seat,” Trooper Sean Eitel told WBNS.

Eitel had been pursuing the vehicle after he said spotted the driver, Brandy Wilson, 35, driving erratically on Ohio 16 in Newark, a city about 30 miles east of Columbus.

Wilson pulled away from Eitel during the pursuit and sped up, eventually running a stop sign and striking a utility pole, Eitel said.

Wilson’s vehicle burst into flames and Eitel grabbed a fire extinguisher, not knowing that the baby was trapped inside.

“She started going towards the back of the car,” Eitel said, describing what Wilson was doing after the flames were extinguished. “An then I could hear her say ‘My baby!’”

The infant boy was rescued from the vehicle after Eitel cut the seat belt free. The child was left with family while the mother was taken into custody on a series of charges.

Wilson was charged with driving under suspension, reckless operation, failure to yield, failure to comply and two counts of child endangering.

Amanda Davis opens up about alcohol addiction

Here she was in her late 50s and her little girl had dropped her off at the Canyon in Santa Monica, Calif., an hour’s drive from her daughter’s home in Los Angeles. Amanda Davis still couldn’t believe she might be an alcoholic.

God, is this really happening? she asked herself. Am I really here?

She was greeted at the door by two staff members who led her first to a nurse’s station, where she emptied her bags of all sharp objects, turned in her medications for high blood pressure and depression.

“I kept having this vision of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’” she said.

Davis’ life had indeed gotten a little crazy, but besides depression, her biggest problem wasn’t of a psychotic nature. It was alcohol and had been for a pretty good while.

Read more about her journey to sobriety in an emotional This Life interview with Gracie Bonds Staples.

5 things to know: Amanda Davis discusses alcoholism, depression

Five things to know Wednesday, May 18:

1. Veteran TV anchor Amanda Davis returned on air for the first time in three years on CBS 46 Tuesday night to discuss her struggles with alcohol and depression. [Rodney Ho brings you this story]

2. Delta Air Lines will not renew its sponsorship of the Fox Theatre, citing a private concert by Jennifer Lopez for rival Qatar Airways. [Kelly Yamanouchi has more on this story]

3. A sheriff’s deputy was charged with sexual assault after he allegedly took inappropriate photos of a woman while on duty. [Raisa Habersham has the details]

4. By late morning yesterday, Braves players knew their coach had been fired. [David O'Brien has their reactions to the news]

5. Cloudy with a chance of rain. Sound familiar? [Get your Atlanta weather forecast here]

Granola bars on recall list for possible listeria contamination

Quaker Oats is recalling its Quinoa Granola Bars because of possible listeria contamination.  

The Food and Drug Administration says one of Quaker's ingredient suppliers distributed sunflower kernels that may be tainted.  

So far, there have been no reports of any illnesses linked to the granola bars.  

While the vast majority of potentially affected Quaker products were withheld from ever reaching retail shelves, the products being recalled were distributed nationwide and are as follows:

  • 6.1 ounce boxes of Quaker Quinoa Granola Bars Chocolate Nut Medley with UPC code 30000 32241 and Best Before Dates of: 10/16/2016, 10/17/2016
  • 6.1 ounce boxes of Quaker Quinoa Granola Bars Yogurt, Fruit & Nut with UPC 30000 32243 and Best

Before Dates of: 10/10/2016, 10/11/2016

 

Parents asked to turn children away after fatal PDK air show crash

“Look away” are the last words a mother expects to tell her child during an air show.

Pilots of highly agile, acrobatic biplanes want guests to watch the daring and often death-defying maneuvers.

But at 4:49 p.m. Saturday, pilot Greg Connell, of South Carolina, crashed and died during an airshow at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.

Two planes cross paths close to the ground in a raw video shot by a woman in the crowd. The camera follows a plane across the blue sky as it climbs and dives against the wind.

WSB radio announcer Mark McKay, who was emceeing the Good Neighbor Day Air Show, said he saw the plane hit the ground and break up.

“I see a tire fly off and then it catches fire in the grassy area,” McKay said.

The announcer asked parents to turn their children from the scene.

“Ladies and gentleman, I want you to turn your children away from the field,” WSB radio announcer Scott Slade said to the crowd.

Starr Jones, of Atlanta, brought her young daughter to the air show Saturday and watched as the tiny plane went down.

“It happened right in front of where I was standing,” Jones said. “It was awful.”

Jones watched as firefighters responded immediately, but it was already too late to save Connell.

“It was two tiny planes that were doing stunts,” Jones said. “They kept crossing paths and the next thing you know one of them touched the ground and started rolling and rolling and then burst into flames and the plane just tore apart.”

The pilot of the second plane in the air at the time, Gary Ward, told Channel 2 Action News he didn’t hear any calls of distress over the radio or know his friend was in trouble.

“Greg flew underneath me and I had no idea Greg crashed like a second later,” Ward said.

Connell’s custom-built biplane, known as Wolfpitts, hit the ground after failing to pull out of a dive maneuver. Ward is called Connell’s instructor and mentor on the "meet the pilot" page of Connell’s website.

“I came back in the show for the next maneuver,” Ward said. “We did individual maneuvers at that point, and I went ahead and did my next maneuver, not knowing that Greg had crashed.”

Connell started flight training in 1989, following in his father’s footsteps by training with local legend Al Patton.

Airport director Mario Evans said this was the first accident in the air show’s 30-year history.

“It’s a traumatic incident,” Evans said. “I knew the pilot personally, so I don’t want to go any further. I’m just emotional.”

An official investigation could take up to a year to complete, according to Channel 2.

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Georgia woman claims OkCupid site matched her up with a rapist

A Georgia woman is suing on online dating site for fixing her up with a sexual predator, a Mableton man who was later sentenced to life in prison for raping the woman during their first encounter.

Devin Richard Hartman had raped at least four women he met online before creating a profile on OkCupid.com in May 2014, according to the lawsuit, which was filed last week in Fulton County State Court. But Hartman, whose online profile was “midwestisbest13,” said his name was Zach Anderson, according to police.

Hartman is serving consecutive life sentences following his conviction on rape and sodomy charges. The suit alleges that OkCupid.com and its parent companies should have known Hartman was a predator and should not have permitted him to use the site.

“OkCupid defendants failed to exercise reasonable care in operating its website, monitoring users, screening users, and acting on reports of rape and sexual assault,” the lawsuit says.

Read more on the lawsuit vs. OkCupid on myajc.com.

Teenager charged with killing Barney Simms claims self-defense

A 17-year-old charged with murder in the shooting of community leader Barney Simms told police he shot Simms in self-defense, an Atlanta detective testified Tuesday. But the detective also said investigators didn’t believe the teenager.

In a hearing Tuesday to decide whether there was probable cause for the case against Eric Banks, Atlanta police detective Kyle Klenhenz revealed the reason the teenager said he killed the 70-year-old man.

“Eric said that he felt threatened, took out a gun and shot Barney Simms,” Klenhenz testified, according to Channel 2 Action News.

Prosecutors said Simms’ car, television and wallet were all missing, leading them to believe that Banks’ motive was not self-defense but robbery.

Simms, a community activist and once an executive with the Atlanta Housing Authority, had driven Banks to a Virginia Avenue Waffle House for something to eat the afternoon of April 9. Simms had a photo of Banks in his cellphone, a picture taken while they were at the restaurant, police said.

About four hours after neighbors heard gunshots, Simms’ body was discovered in the bushes in front of his southwest Atlanta home. He had been shot twice in the back.

After seeing the photo of her son on news stories, Banks’ mother persuaded him to turn himself in five days after the shooting.

Banks is being held without bond on six counts of murder, aggravated assault and armed robbery. A Fulton County judge ruled there was enough evidence for his case to move forward.

Related:

Community “heartbroken” over shooting death of Barney Simms, community activist

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