A red-light camera fiasco has left some Culver City police officials with red faces as they admitted Monday they got the wrong man.
The Police Department dismissed a $490 ticket issued to actor Steve Tom for allegedly running a red light and acknowledged it was a case of mistaken identity. Authorities now believe a man who resembles Tom and is the registered owner of the vehicle was the driver.
“We are dismissing the citation in the interest of justice,” Culver City Police Capt. Ron Iizuka said.
The department decided to reexamine video from the red-light camera and speak to the vehicle’s registered owner after Tom questioned the ticket in a Times report. Iizuka said it determined Tom was not the driver.
"Mr. Tom is happy and we are happy to resolve this,” he said.
The mix-up may have resulted in part from an uncanny resemblance. The ticket had Tom's name on it, but the address was in St. Louis, far from Tom’s North Hollywood home. And the registered owner of the white Land Rover Discovery that allegedly ran the red was someone named Barry L. Babcock. Attached to the ticket was a photo from the red-light camera video. Tom said he and Babcock looked an awful lot alike.
Tom, 62, said he is glad the bizarre episode is over, but doesn't know why it took an article in The Times and his own sleuthing to figure things out. He said he received an apology Monday morning after the department reviewed video of who was behind the wheel during the incident on June 15 at 2:44 p.m.
"I'm fine with the outcome," he said.
According to the video, the vehicle made a right turn on a red at Sepulveda Boulevard and Green Valley Circle.
After receiving the citation two weeks ago, Tom, who played a judge on the TV drama “Major Crimes,” scoured the Internet for information about Babcock. He quickly found images of the former cable television executive. Tom said he was taken aback by their resemblance. He hired a private investigator and found addresses in Florida and Missouri.
All the while, Culver City police were insisting he was the culprit.
“The guy insisted to me the department got the right guy and it was me,” Tom told The Times. “The city was going to win. He said, ‘When I saw the photograph, I knew it was you. You can bring as many attorneys, but it is you.’”
Iizuka told The Times last week one of the officers knew Tom and identified him as the man in the video.
Babcock, meanwhile, acknowledged that he didn’t know Tom, but declined to comment at length about the red-light violation or ticket.
Red-light cameras have been a financial boon for Culver City since 1999. They’re installed at 11 intersections across town, according to city records. In 2014, the cameras generated more than $2 million in revenue, with about 40% going to a company that operates the system, according to the records.
Jay Beeber of Safer Streets L.A., a group that successfully campaigned to eliminate Los Angeles’ red-light cameras in 2012, said the ticket Tom got raised questions.
“That is the craziest red-light cam ticket I have ever heard of and I have been doing this awhile,” Beeber said. “They have to have a reasonable suspicion…. What other evidence do they have?”
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the number of cities nationwide using red-light cameras has declined to about 400 from more than 700 in recent years as questions over whether they improve safety have arisen. More than 100 cities in California once used the cameras, but that number has dropped by about two-thirds, Beeber said.
In Tom’s case, Iizuka said Culver City police were happy to correct the error.
"Thank you for keeping us on our toes," he told a reporter Monday.