A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Clarendon County, South Carolina town of Turbeville for its practice of charging speeders under an ordinance that allows the town to keep the fines rather than the state.
The State newspaper in Columbia reports the lawsuit filed by three law firms seeks nullification of Turbeville’s town safety ordinance. It also seeks the return of millions of dollars to the tens of thousands drivers who received such tickets since 2003, when the local ordinance was passed.
The ordinance allows Turbeville – which sits along U.S. 378 on the way to the tourist destination of Myrtle Beach – to write traffic tickets with higher fines than state traffic tickets. The violations aren’t reported to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which means the driver’s insurance company doesn’t learn of them either, the newspaper reported.
So drivers often pay the fines, which can be as high as $500. If a driver does challenge the ticket, the lone magistrate in Turbeville converts it to a state citation, lowering the possibility that the town ordinance will be challenged, the lawsuit says.
“It’s illegal,” said state Rep. Jimmy Bales, D-Richland, who unsuccessfully has introduced legislation to block the practice and also advocated erecting “speed trap” warning signs outside Turbeville’s town limits.
Town financial statements included in the civil lawsuit, filed in state court, show Turbeville collected about $1 million a year in traffic fines for 13 years. Officers in the community of just over 800 people were writing more tickets than cities that are 20 times bigger, the newspaper reported.
Turbeville administrator Rodney Johnson declined to comment to the newspaper. In 2013, Turbeville police chief David Jones said the fines were intended to “shock the conscious” of speeding drivers who could endanger the safety of residents.
The Turbeville violations are not called speeding tickets, and the town’s ordinance doesn’t list speeding as a crime. Instead, tickets are issued for “careless operation” of a vehicle that endangers public safety.
The three law firms are representing two clients who have received tickets. More clients likely will come forward after the suit is made public, attorneys said.
Turbeville, which covers only 1.3 square miles, is on U.S. 378, a major route for tourists headed to Myrtle Beach from Columbia and the Midlands. It’s also near the U.S. 378 exit off Interstate 95, funneling even more tourists through the tiny town.
Bales said he receives numerous complaints about the town’s traffic citations each summer from constituents in his Lower Richland district.
“It ruins people’s vacations,” he said. “They come back crying.”
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