- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

BALTIMORE (AP) Keith Patillo remembers the day vividly: It was raining. He was racing between appointments, the traffic light turned red, and he accidentally drove through it.

That's when the 33-year-old Randallstown real estate agent saw the red flash of the traffic-enforcement camera behind him.

"I just recently told my wife to watch for it, 'cause I knew we were going to have to eat it," Mr. Patillo said.

But the ticket never came.

Instead, another man, Charles Ricketts, got it.

The 50-year-old Severn resident opened the envelope a couple of weeks ago to find a photo taken March 26.

The photo showed a dark purple Dodge Caravan Voyager with the plate number: M182782. Mr. Ricketts' green Plymouth Voyager has an almost identical plate number: M182781.

A simple check of motor-vehicle records by the city should have cleared up the matter, Mr. Ricketts thought.

"It ought to be pretty clear," said Mr. Ricketts, who works for the Department of Defense. "They have my license-plate number. They have the number in the photo. They're not the same. I'm not sure what the problem would be."

What should have been an easy fix, has become a nightmare.

Mr. Ricketts said he has spent more than a week calling and writing city officials to no avail.

"We're checking into this to see if the ticket was misread or what actually occurred," said Jennifer Sproul, collections-division manager at the fine-collection office.

Generally, ticket are dismissed if the person cited and the car in the photo don't match, said Miss Sproul, who adds she can't remember that happening before.

Officials at Washington, D.C.-based ACS State and Local Solutions, the company that operates the cameras, said their employees might have made identical typographical errors during a two-phase verification system designed to detect mistakes. Both times, apparently, they entered Mr. Ricketts' plate number, an error described as extremely rare.

"Who knows how many times in a million this might happen," said Phyllis Guss, a company spokeswoman.

Had Mr. Ricketts' van been less similar in appearance to the one that ran the light, the error might have been caught, she said.

Whatever the reason, Mr. Ricketts is still stuck in a web of bureaucracy.

"I thought it would be complicated, but this has exceeded my imagination even," he said.

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