Wrong speed limit posting yields tickets

HOUSTON A retired police officer figured his wife was guilty when she got a ticket, until he drove through the intersection where she was ticketed. That's when he decided to fight the ticket she got at FM 1314 and Old Sorters Road in Montgomery County.

When his wife told him she got a speeding ticket, Joe Gadus figured she deserved it, she'd pay for it, and they'd move on.

"Like all married men, wife calls, says she got a speeding ticket, go to defensive driving, deferred disposition," said Gadus.

However, then he got to thinking and driving and photographing. Then he saw something no one else did, a mistake that was costly and careless and very easily missed.

It's right there. A speed limit sign, plain as day, but wrong as wrong can be.

"This came about because of incompetence, lack of supervision and follow-up, and arrogance," said Gadus.

The 40mph sign, the one that his wife was pulled over for violating, never should've been there.

"It was human error," said Texas Department of Transportation's Karen Baker.

TXDOT knew it was wrong. In June 2008, they put the wrong sign up. The 40mph sign should be 50mph sign. TXDOT told crews to fix it in August, but even with the help of photos and fancy word balloons, the road crew couldn't figure it out.

It was still there, still wrong, when this ticket was written in May 2009, over 10 months later. While TXDOT apologizes, they say their mistake doesn't really matter.

"Whatever the speed limit is posted is what drivers should follow. Even if it's wrong," said Baker.

Wow. I wasn't really sure if I got that, so I asked again and sure enough TXDOT says even if they get it wrong, twice, they aren't really wrong.

"The speed limit is what is posted along the roadway. It doesn't matter if it's the correct speed limit or incorrect speed limit," said Baker.

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Office agrees with TXDOT that, wrong sign or not, the cops are right.

"Those officers on the street go by what is posted," said Lt. Dan Norris of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office.

Not to be deterred, Gadus unearthed records showing at least 600 tickets were written in the area of the wrong sign, maybe as many as 1500. For Gadus, a 30-year veteran cop by the way, that's way too many. Unless officers had a sinister motive.

"It looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's a speed trap," said Gadus.

When asked about a possible speed trap, Lt. Norris replied, "No, not at all."

For all his work, a judge recently dismissed Gadus' wife's ticket. Now he's worried about the hundreds of other people who got tickets in the same place, but paid the fine because they never saw what he saw.

"When you couple arrogance with incompetence you end up with disaster for the motorist," said Gadus.

This is a relatively small stretch of highway on FM 1314 near Old Sorters Road, but hundreds of people likely pleaded guilty already or took defensive driving and moved on. For them it's too late. For people set for trial, the JP says these cases may be dismissed.

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