- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bruce May got nabbed twice in recent weeks by Howard County speed cameras.

That might explain in part why the 50-year-old Ellicott City man is now facing second-degree assault, destruction of property and reckless endangerment charges.

Police on Wednesday said Mr. May used a slingshot to fire marbles from his moving minivan at a camera operator stationed alongside U.S. Route 144 near Manor Woods Elementary School.

The operator, a civilian police employee, told investigators he was sitting in a van equipped with a camera at about 5 p.m. Tuesday when he heard something strike the side of the vehicle. He looked up and saw a gray 2005 Chrysler Town and County minivan driving past.

A little later, he heard the sound again. And when he looked up again, he saw the same Chrysler minivan. But that time, he also saw the slingshot.

“He was certainly very aware it was inappropriate,” county police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said.

The operator called police, and Mr. May was arrested shortly afterward. Police said it was fortunate the operator wasn’t injured.

“It wasn’t a mass amount of damage to the vehicle or equipment,” Ms. Llewellyn said. “We have seen that in previous cases.”

In fact, police said the attack wasn’t the first this month by a frustrated motorist on the county’s 7-month-old speed camera program.

The department reported that on June 12 rocks were thrown through a window of a Maryland State Highway Administration speed camera van along U.S. 29 near Route 103 in Ellicott City. The rocks hit the operator and damaged camera equipment.

A day later, something was thrown through the back window of a county speed camera van parked near Waverly Elementary School.

Police are investigating whether the attacks, all within about six miles of one another, are connected. But officials at the local and state level condemned Mr. May’s actions, calling the incident “inappropriate” and “dangerous behavior.”

“When someone does something like this, it doesn’t just affect the property of the vehicle itself, it affects the person inside,” Ms. Llewellyn said. “You may or may not agree with the speed camera program, but that doesn’t make it appropriate to take action like this against an individual employee. That’s why we’re taking this so seriously.”

Police said Mr. May posted $3,000 bail and was released. A phone number listed for his address was disconnected.

The speed camera program in Howard County is relatively new, Ms. Llewellyn said. The county does not have any permanent cameras, only two mobile cameras transported in vans that “are in different places each day and we post in advance where they’re going to be each week.”

The attack Tuesday was not the first on a local speed camera to draw a swift police response.

Last year, a man carrying a shotgun attacked a car with a mounted speed camera parked along Route 295. According to the camera operator, the man walked out of a wooded area, rapped on the back window with the gun, and then smashed the windshield with a hammer. A search for the man shut down a portion of the state roadway and prompted a daylong manhunt that included helicopters, armored cars and canine officers.

Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said the man has not been caught.

“It’s not the correct away to voice personal feelings about the existence of either the law or that piece of equipment and the operator who runs that piece of equipment,” Mr. Shipley said. “These cameras are in place because of the careful consideration from legislators who’ve passed laws … for the safety of citizens.”

Other areas of the country also have seen extreme levels of speed camera crimes.

In 2007, a man in Tennessee shot a speed camera that ticketed his car, and in 2009 a camera operator was fatally shot in Arizona by a disgruntled driver. The driver is now serving a 22-year prison sentence.

Montgomery County in 2007 was the first Maryland jurisdiction to establish a speed camera program, but even the instances of vandalism there are far below marble slinging, going only so far as painting over a lens or trying to push over a camera, said Montgomery County police spokeswoman Lucille Baur.

“Fortunately, we’ve had no instances of someone who is angry with the speed camera program trying to harm an individual,” she said. “There are certainly people who are unhappy with an automated speed enforcement program, and they take out frustrations by vandalizing equipment.

“Whether or not people totally agree with the concept of automated speed enforcement, most people do understand that they should not take out frustrations by damaging equipment,” Ms. Baur said.

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