TODAY'S TOPIC: Lawyer Out To Prove This Town's A Speed Trap
MARTHA BRYSON HODEL
Mar. 20, 1986
KIMBALL, W.Va. (AP) _ Kimball is a quiet town with lots of trees gracing both sides of U.S. 52, and Mayor Jack Premo wants to keep it quiet. The highway's 55 mph speed limit drops to 35 mph as you come into town, then at the town limit drops to 25 mph, strictly enforced.
But lawyer Roger Perry suspects town officials have created a speed trap, a way to pay for municipal services at the expense of unwary out-of-town drivers. He's taken his case from traffic court to the state Supreme Court to try to prove it.
Kimball has quite a reputation. Newspapers in Welch and Williamson have published repeated letters from outraged motorists who claim to have been caught in Kimball's radar snare.
Mayor Premo says there's a reason: ''That highway runs right through the middle of town, and it's hard to keep these people slowed down. They come off that interstate down in Princeton and a lot of them forget where they are.''
Basil Perry, Roger Perry's brother who lives in Ohio, was driving through Kimball on his way to Virginia several years ago when he got pulled over for speeding. He was released on $50 bond pending a trial in municipal court.
''He showed up in court with an out-of-town lawyer - my wife - and a newspaper reporter and photographer from Welch, and they decided it wasn't worth messing with,'' said Roger Perry, who practices law with his wife, Susan. ''They gave him his money back and dropped the charge.''
The resulting newspaper story caught the eye of Jackson Richardson of Millersville, Md., a former Kimball resident. In July 1982, Richardson received a ticket for driving 32 mph in a 25-mph zone.
Richardson, an employee of the Defense Department in Washington, D.C., is an expert on radar devices, according to Perry. Richardson maintained that he was not speeding and that Kimball's radar device was not accurate because it was built before 1984.
He hired Roger Perry to prove it in court.
One of the lawyer's first moves was an attempt to look through town records to see how many non-residents had received speeding tickets. Town officials refused, saying he had addressed his request to the wrong person and that he hadn't been specific enough about which records he wanted to see.
That part of the dispute was settled recently by the West Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled that the town records were public documents. The justices sent the case back to the circuit court for an order opening the records.
''Court records were never meant to be hidden away, only to be revealed in small sections to diligent investigators, who first must prove their mettle by navigating through a labyrinth of red tape,'' Supreme Court Justice William Brotherton said in the court's opinion.
''If Mr. Richardson, his attorney, or any other person wishes to go fishing through the traffic records of any court in this state, he has the right to do so.''
Premo says the city began using radar in 1980 and denies it's running a speed trap. He blames the city's reputation on the Welch Daily News.
''The publisher got a ticket,'' Premo said. ''That newspaper has been on us for three or four years.''
Daily News Publisher David Corcoran acknowledges that he got a ticket, but said that had little to do with the many letters to the editor complaining about Kimball.
Premo disputes the charge of inaccuracy, saying the radar operator has been certified by the state, and adds that the town police officer issues few tickets. ''He might write one a day or five a day, it just varies.''
State Tax Department audit records support the argument that the town depends heavily on revenues from fines, however.
In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1980, the category of ''fines and forfeits'' - including fines other than speeding - was the city's third largest source of revenue, contributing $11,366 to total revenues of $43,045.87.
Fines and forfeits continued as the third-largest revenue source the following year, but in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1982, fines and forfeits became the single largest source of income for the town - $31,902 from that category out of total revenues of $91,200.
Fines and forfeits continued to be the single-largest source of income until 1984 - the year that Richardson went to court. That year, fines and forfeits dropped to $18,674 out of total revenues of $73,454.
The mayor repeats that his town is only trying keep its streets safe.
''You'd think that as much free advertising as that newspaper has given us, people would be slowing down,'' Premo said. ''I can't believe they haven't.''