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More than 160 drivers ticketed in school bus sting

More than 160 people received $500 traffic citations Wednesday as part of a sting by the South Pasadena Police Department involving a decoy school bus complete with people walking on and off the vehicle.

The sting -- designed to nab motorists who fail to stop for school buses with flashing red lights -- has generated debate in the city. Some said the program was unfair, charging that the location was unusual for a school bus, that the officers created a distraction and that there were no schoolchildren present.

“It was a crazy place for a school bus to be parked,” said Valerie McAndrews, whose 16-year-old daughter was among those cited. “You don’t stop in the middle of Huntington or you’re going to be rear-ended. In this particular instance, I don’t think there was any way to obey the law.”

Others are supporting the effort, saying the city needs to crack down on drivers who don’t follow the rules.

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The yellow school bus first appeared on the busy six-lane road about 8 a.m. near the intersection of Milan Avenue, which has no stop sign or crosswalk. San Gabriel resident Mary Hatton, 42, said she approached the area about 8:45 a.m. and was confused when she saw more than a dozen officers among the cars in the middle of the busy street.

“It was a circus of lights and chaos,” she said of the sting that included officers from the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, San Marino and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Temple City station.

“No one was speeding,” Hatton said. “I mean people were literally just trying to figure out what was going on and what to do to keep away from whatever the activity was. I thought I was being directed along with other motorists away from whatever it was that was happening.”

Instead, Hatton also received the $500 ticket.

The South Pasadena Police Department decided to set up the sting in the area after receiving a complaint from the parents of a disabled child who boards a school bus on Huntington Drive, Police Chief Dan Watson said. “They’ve had a difficult time getting to the bus because people don’t comply with the vehicle code,” he said.

That code says drivers may not pass a school bus with its red lights flashing when it is “stopped for the purpose of loading or unloading any schoolchildren.”

Sgt. Tony Abdalla said there were two decoys who got on and off the bus while the warning lights were flashing.

“There were no children to be seen from my vantage point,” said Hatton.

She also said that the scene distracted more than it mimicked a life-like situation. This distinction may weigh in favor of those who decide to contest their tickets, said Santa Monica attorney Philip Israels. “If in fact what the officers are doing is suggesting that people commit a crime which they normally would not be committing, then we get into a whole issue of whether or not there’s entrapment,” he said.

Watson said Matthew St. George, a Superior Court commissioner in Alhambra, had been on site and assured police the operation was within legal guidelines.

“The fact that we wrote so many tickets in a short period of time is an indication that the driving public is not aware that they’re required to stop or they’re not paying attention.” He said the sting was not designed to generate extra revenue for the city.

Some community members endorsed the officers’ actions, especially on a road where traffic whizzes by and accidents are known to occur.

“We just had someone last year that got killed right up the street here,” said Sandra Muro, a dental assistant whose office is nearby. “They’re making a point that they need to slow down.”

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corina.knoll@latimes.com


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