Gotcha!

Corporations and governments can legally ignore photo tickets in the Valley, while the rest of us are expected to pay up -- or else

The beginning of last year was hectic for Francesca Cisneros, an energetic young businesswoman who was heading up a new mortgage office in Phoenix.

She was working 12-hour-plus days, zooming around town to meetings with her phone earpiece under her long, dark hair and her Blackberry within arm's reach. Cisneros, 33, was a leadfoot in her 2002 Honda Civic. She wasn't reckless — she just had little respect for speed limits. She'd been pulled over once and received photo-enforcement notices in the mail for her speeding in the previous three years, but couldn't seem to break the habit.

And the mailed notices — she trashed them. And they went away.

Three were from Scottsdale; one was from Chandler, where she lived. Mailing a citation to a traffic violator doesn't make it stick in Arizona. Unless a process server delivers it personally, city courts must dismiss the ignored ticket within four months. All four of Cisneros' photo tickets were dismissed this way.

Early 2006 was also an exciting time for the City of Scottsdale, which grabbed national attention for installing speed-enforcement cameras on the Loop 101 freeway in a highly publicized nine-month test program. Six cameras were installed on an eight-mile stretch of the freeway between the 90th Street and Scottsdale Road exits. The city gave speeders a one-month grace period, but warned that as of February 22, anyone caught going more than 10 miles per hour over the 65 mph speed limit would be mailed a citation.

Cisneros paid about as much attention to the new cameras as she had the old ones. Her first recorded violation on the 101 came March 5 at 10:11 a.m., for going 81. Over the next three months, the photo-enforcement system was like a strobe light on Cisneros, flashing her almost every other day as she flitted around town.

Flurries of tickets began arriving in her mailbox. Cisneros stopped checking her mail. And when the box got too stuffed, she got a note saying all her mail was now getting collected at the post office.

She was pegged for 14 violations in March, then nine in April. May was her biggest month, with 33. The cameras caught her speeding four times a day on three days that month. Most of the speeding occurred between 10 a.m. and noon, and between 7 and 9 p.m., when the freeway is less crowded. She eased back during the summer, drawing 14 violations in June and two in July.

The total came to 70 speeding violations for 2006, with 64 on the freeway. Her highest freeway speed was 86 mph. She also got one camera ticket for running a red light.

"There are rules for a reason, I understand that," Cisneros says of photo enforcement. "But it's such an annoying nuisance. The whole thing is about money."

In mid-August, the state Motor Vehicle Division suspended her driver's license. And the police came looking for her one day at her mortgage office when she wasn't there. When she called the number on the card they left, a detective asked her to come down to the station to talk. She did — and was promptly thrown in the clink.

"Like a jackass idiot I went down there without a lawyer," she says.

She was released two days later after promising to appear for her court date.

The number of tickets set a record in Scottsdale, and Cisneros was suddenly all over TV news and the Internet, complete with her mournful mug shot.

A plea deal with prosecutors put her in Scottsdale's city jail again, for another five days. Her driving privileges were restricted, and she was ordered to pay more than $10,000 in fines.

Cisneros, who has a bachelor's degree in marketing, complains that she was devastated by the way the media made her look so foolish. She says she turned down interview requests from Inside Edition and CNN.

"It was horrible — the most embarrassing thing ever," she recalls.

Much of the media's focus then was on how ridiculous it was for anyone to think they could ignore photo tickets.

"She threw them away because she thought nothing would happen to her," KPHO-TV's Jason Barry told his audience on August 11. "She was wrong."

Actually, Cisneros had the right idea — she just took it to an extreme, and she didn't fully understand the game.

Throwing away the tickets works only until the process server shows up. Once the process server delivers the tickets, that's it — they have to be dealt with.

David Pickron, who runs AAA Photo Safety in Mesa, says Cisneros "wasn't cooperatively served," but she was served. Pickron hires part-time process servers to deliver photo tickets for all six Valley cities that use the cameras. His employees knew Cisneros was trying to evade them when they would show up at her door with five or six tickets in hand.

He says one server caught sight of her through a sliding glass door and started banging on it, yelling that he was an officer of the court.

"She ran out of the room" and didn't answer the door, Pickron says.

That was all the process server needed to legally drop off the paperwork at her door.

Had she taken more care to avoid the servers, her story might have turned out differently.

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