Hamtramck does an about-face on speed trap after 7 Action News Investigation

DETROIT (WXYZ) - A 7 Action News investigation is getting action on two fronts.

It's a story involving a speed trap on the I-75 service drive in Hamtramck that sparked a flood of complaints from our viewers.

But things have changed, thanks to the city's police chief and a 7 Action News viewer who discovered sometimes you can fight city hall..

They say a man who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client, but the old axiom doesn't hold true David Cherry. 

His is a David and Goliath story. Goliath, in this case, is the Hamtramck Police Department and the 31st District Court.  As you're about to see, David Cherry fought the law and HE won.

It all began with a 7 Action News Investigation in November of 2011. We exposed how Hamtramck police were raking in the dough with a speed trap on the I-75 service drive.

The posted limit: 25 miles per hour on a service drive.

Our investigation raised questions about whether that speed limit was fair, or even legal.

Enter David Cherry. 

"You know I had just a sense of injustice after I got stopped," said Cherry.

After seeing our investigation, Cherry got nabbed on the I-75 service drive just inside the Hamtramck city limits.  The road there is three lanes, wide open, with no cross streets, no homes, no parking and a 25 mile per hour limit.

"I wasn't doing anything to endanger anyone, and yet somehow I was going to have to shell out $120 or $130 to a city that was just collecting my revenue," Cherry told 7 Action News.

While Cherry was waging his battle in court, someone else stepped up to the plate. Hamtramck's new police chief decided to take action on a hot potato that he inherited.

"The fact that you brought it to our attention, we realized it had to be done and we wanted to get it done straight," said Chief Max Garbarino.

We'll tell you what the chief did in response to our investigation in a minute.  Right now, let's go back to David Cherry and the 7 Action News investigation that motivated him to fight.

In our 2011 story, we showed how folks were getting popped left and right on the service drive.  And when they got to court they were offered a deal; plead guilty to impeding traffic, pay on the spot, and avoid points on their driving record.

Most people took the deal, but they were angry.

"I think that the economy is all messed up these days, including the city or whatever, and they're just trying to get people's money," one angry driver told 7 Action News after paying up at the courthouse.

Back in 2011, we talked to Lieutenant Gary Megge who heads up the Michigan State Police Traffic Services Division and asked for his take on that 25 mile per hour speed limit on the service drive.

"I'm not aware of anything that would give that 25 any enforceability," Megge said.

We also talked to Jim Walker from the National Motorists Association who told us the 25 mile per hour speed limit had not been justified by an engineering study as required by state law.

"Twenty five is not logical and I would think it's probably, technically, not legal," Walker told us.

And that's how David Cherry was able to challenge his ticket.

He spent weeks researching and discovered that an engineering study had never been done on the service drive as required by law. He asked the judge to dismiss the ticket.

But Hamtramck's prosecutor told the judge that the 25 mile per hour limit was legal because the land was platted residential under the Land Division Act.

Cherry researched that too, way back to 1915.  He got the documentation, and drafted an extensive legal brief, without assistance from a lawyer and discovered he was on the right side of the law there too.

"It's never been residential, ever. The piece of land where I was stopped is and always has been an industrial piece of land," Cherry said.

After six months of court arguments and postponements, the judge finally made a decision.

"The court is prepared to make a decision today and basically the court is going to grant Mr. Cherry's motion to dismiss the case," said 31st District Court judge Paul Paruk.

A few days later Cherry got the formal notice; the ticket was dismissed.

And while Cherry was fighting in court, Hamtramck's police chief was re-evaluating that 25 mile per hour limit. Chief Garbarino brought in the same State Police Lieutenant we featured in our 2011 investigation to teach his supervisors how to do a speed study.

"We ended up sending the supervisors out there and conducted a speed study and ultimately determined that we did need to change the speed limit which we're in the process of doing now," Garbarino said.

The southbound service drive is being raised from 25 miles per hour to 35. On the northbound side, where David Cherry was ticketed it is being bumped up to 40. Garbarino said the speed limits will be changed as soon as the Hamtramck Department of Public Works finishes making the new signs.

But one northbound stretch of the I-75 service drive north of Caniff is being left right where it is, at 25 miles per hour because there are a lot of houses and heavy foot traffic.

"Not only that but the block clubs were adamant with us about, please, please leave it.  And we just feel overall it would be a lot safer if we were to leave it at 25 at that point," said Garbarino.

David Cherry thinks there is a lesson to be learned from his case; don't always take authority at face value.

"If you want to be a lawyer, be a lawyer.  You know, give it a shot, and stand up for yourself even if the other guy is, you know, a Goliath," Cherry said.

Two lawmakers in Lansing are working legislation that would somehow force all communities to do engineering studies to justify their speed limits, which is already required by law.

In the meantime, most of the speed limits posted in metro Detroit are not legitimate and could be challenged in court, just as David Cherry did.

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