SIOUX CITY | An Oregon man who got a speeding ticket after his rental car was snapped by a traffic camera on Interstate 29 in Sioux City claims he was hundreds of miles away at the time and has witnesses and documents to prove it.
Ken Benkstein thinks the only logical explanation for his $168 ticket is that the camera equipment malfunctioned, recording the date incorrectly when a different customer had the car.
His story and supporting documents seem credible, but city officials didn't back down. They said the evidence is on the citation, which shows the car, with a closeup of the rear license plate, was recorded traveling north at 65 mph in a 55 mph zone at 10:15 a.m. Sept. 11 at I-29 mile marker 151.
That's at the Riverside exit in Sioux City. Benkstein and colleagues from his West Des Moines public relations and marketing firm, Meyocks Group, insist they were meeting in West Des Moines, about 200 miles from Sioux City, that morning and later went to Ames, Iowa.
Company Senior Vice President James Head said Wednesday he and the other employees were dumbfounded when they learned Benkstein, who commutes from his home in McMinnville, Ore., had received the $168 speeding ticket for the day he spent with them.
“It defies any logic," Head said. “Ken’s car was in our parking lot when we left for Ames, and it was there when we returned” less than four hours later.
“Ken’s rental cars are absolutely not shared with other employees,” Head wrote in an Oct. 22 letter to the Sioux City Police Department.
“It’s not like we were drinking buddies and saying we’ll help you fight this thing,” Head told me Wednesday. “What we said didn’t seem to count. From my perspective, the city should have understood there was a mistake somewhere in the machinery.”
Two other colleagues and Benkstein himself wrote to city officials. Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, based in Tulsa, Okla., wrote a letter stating Benkstein had rented the car on Sept. 9 at the Des Moines airport, returned it Sept 14 and driven it 230 miles. Benkstein also sent a copy of the receipt for the car rental and a Google document showing the distance from the airport to Sioux City as 199 miles -- a round trip of nearly 400 miles.
That was after he had called the police department and the city attorney's office and tried unsuccessfully to resolve the issue.
Sioux City started installing traffic cameras in 2009, and although many motorists have complained about their tickets, city officials said Benkstein's case may be a first.
“We’ve never had an incident where the camera equipment has been off,” City Attorney Nicole Jensen-Harris told me last week, adding the only issue for the city was that the car was in Sioux City when the violation took place. “That’s all we’re required to prove.”
The city did check with Dollar Thrifty but was told Benkstein's mileage could not be verified.
However, late Friday afternoon, a Dollar Thrifty official contacted the police department saying it would pay the fine to RedFlex, the company that operates the cameras. As of Wednesday afternoon, Dollar Thrifty hadn't returned my calls and emails asking what spurred the decision.
Benkstein had just mailed his payment to the RedFlex processing center in Cleveland. When the company receives the two payments, it will work with the city to refund his money, RedFlex spokeswoman Jody Ryan of Phoenix said.
She also said the staff wasn't aware of any erroneous date stamps on citations "in recent history."
Benkstein, 61, who lived in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines for 20 years before moving to Oregon in 2002, said he hasn't been in Sioux City since 2000.
“If I had actually done the crime, I would have owned up to it and paid the ticket,” he said. “What we have is a confluence of robots and real human beings here.”
Sometimes, humans score a surprise win over technology.
“I think I have a happy ending,” Benkstein said.