Earlier this week, the Dayton Daily News published an in-depth investigation of the city’s photo enforcement cameras. We found city vehicles, school buses, RTA buses, police cruisers and fire trucks running red lights, though emergency vehicles were not ticketed regardless of whether their lights and sirens were on. Police officials said this was because police need broad discretion in following traffic laws in order to fight crime effectively.
A Dayton police officer who caused a crash this week after running a red light without his lights and sirens on could face disciplinary action, but no ticket, according to city officials.
Officer Jonathan Seiter was quietly following a vehicle after running its plates and learning it was owned by someone with a suspended license, according to police officials. But the vehicle made it through the intersection about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday while driving westbound on U.S. 35 at Abbey Avenue on a green light.
Red light video obtained by the Dayton Daily News does not show the vehicle Seiter reportedly was pursuing. It does show Seiter slowing to a stop at the intersection, then driving through sans sirens and lights.
That’s when a Dodge Ram truck on Abbey Avenue T-boned the cruiser, police say. No one was injured, though the cruiser was taken out of commission until it can be repaired.
Repairs to both vehicles will be paid for by the city, and Seiter will not face a red light ticket or moving violation, according to Assistant Police Chief Robert Chabali.
“He was on duty attempting to do his duty. Certainly he could have done a better job by putting on his emergency lights, and he will receive discipline for that,” Chabali said. “He was very honest and he admitted to stopping, then moving through the red light and just did not see the vehicle coming from the right.”
Discipline can include suspension, which could end up costing more than a moving violation, Chabali said.
The accident came one day after the Dayton Daily News published an investigation finding that police and fire vehicles are exempt from red light or speeding tickets through the city’s photo enforcement cameras, regardless of whether they have their lights and sirens on or are responding to an emergency.
Of the 73,524 times photo enforcement was triggered between January 2011 and mid-April 2012, the Daily News found 3,331 were thrown out by the company that runs the cameras because they involved emergency vehicles.
That included a fire command vehicle and fire department ladder truck that did not appear to be responding to emergencies. Fire officials say that is still under investigation.
It also included police cruisers going through red lights and speeding without their lights on. Chief Richard Biehl said he trusted his officers’ judgment.
State law allows emergency vehicles to run red lights “when responding to an emergency call,” and does not exempt police officers from criminal responsibility if he or she causes a crash.
Chabali said Seiter is a “very good officer” with roughly two decades of experience on the force.
“(Accidents like this) happen on occasion. Overall, these officers are driving thousands of miles a year,” Chabali said. “These things happen when you’re driving that many miles on a shift in a week, in a day in a year.”