Hartly man fighting Kenton ticket gets case dismissed

Traffic coming from Smyrna, Cheswold and the Maryland border intersects at Main (Del. 300) and Commerce (Del. 42) streets in Kenton. (Delaware State News)

SMYRNA — A 63-year-old Hartly man felt “vindicated” after his cell phone violation ticket was dismissed Monday.

Richard Kepfer maintained he was ensnared in an alleged Kenton Police Department ticket mill designed to generate excessive town revenue when stopped on May 10.

According to Mr. Kepfer, a Justice of the Peace Court 8 magistrate determined that state law is “vague and ambiguous” as to what constitutes hands on a phone when driving and ruled in his favor.

“If you read the law it says you can’t even touch it, which is about as absurd as you can get,” he said.

While Kenton Vice Mayor Paul Caple offered no opinion on the resolution afterward — “As in any case the town has no comment,” he said — chief of police Michael Hibbert was far more effusive when accepting the court’s decision while defending law enforcement’s approach to town traffic at the same time.

“The court weighs the evidence presented at trial and renders a decision based upon that evidence,” said Chief Hibbert, who was not involved in the traffic stop last summer.

“That is why we have a court system.

“The court’s decision is final in these cases so therefore, we stand by the court’s decision.”

Mr. Kepfer estimated he spent $225 to defend himself against a potential $206 fine associated with the violation. He also received a warning for traveling 35 mph in a 25 mph as registered by a stationary police radar.

While a police officer claimed that Mr. Kepfer was seen using a cell phone while traveling through town limits, Mr. Kepfer claimed his only electronic device activity came when speaking with his wife outside Kenton and with no law enforcement present.

The speeding stop was just a pretense for issuing the more costly cell phone ticket when the officer saw it inside his vehicle, Mr. Kepfer alleged.

Mr. Kepfer signed the ticket portion that stated — “I wish to plead not guilty or not responsible.”

The case attracted publicity after Mr. Kepfer’s ensuing Freedom of Information Act request found that police in the town with a population of roughly 265 wrote $131,385.91 in traffic tickets in 2016 and $52,068.53 in traffic fines from Jan. 1 to June 23, 2017.

“I might not have contested it if the officer wasn’t so rude and disrespectful during the stop,” Mr. Kepfer said. “I’m 63 years old and deserve better treatment than that at this point in life.”

The small town in western Kent County is intersected by Del. 300 (North Main Street) and Del. 42 (West Commerce Street), roads connecting the Smyrna-Clayton area and Dover, along with providing a path to nearby U.S. 301 in Maryland.

A Delaware State News story on June 16 outlined the retired railroad worker’s allegations that the number of traffic stops was improper, along with Vice Mayor Caple’s explanation that speeders were routinely creating a significant threat to public safety while roaring through the crossroads town on the way to somewhere else.

“I truly don’t understand why there was a negative slant toward the police department in the newspapers about this,” Chief Hibbert said this week. “If the time was taken to interview the residents of the town you would see that the police department does a lot of good in the community and the residents are pleased with our performance in enforcing the traffic laws, particularly speeding which has been a concern since the inception of the police department in 2012.”

Vigilant traffic monitoring has slowed the pace of dangerous vehicles in Kenton, police said.

“Parents are concerned with their children being out on bicycles, especially on weekends with violators clocked on average 45-55 mph in the area of the old Kenton School and on Commerce Street,” according to Chief Hibbert.

“Our top speed clocked has been 70 mph which is totally unacceptable. We are there for the safety of the residents and the children. With word out that we may be on patrol at any given time, the locals have gotten the message and have been slowing down.”

Police are committed to protecting the citizenry from dangerous traffic.

“As long as we have the support of the community we will remain on patrol at their pleasure,” Chief Hibbert said. “The concept is simple here. Obey the law with respect to all violations of the Delaware Motor Vehicle Code.

“Those drivers who do that will not be stopped and therefore have no problem with the police department being an active and positive force for good in the community.”

The extreme ticketing — in Mr. Kepfer’s opinion — will continue unless scrutinized further, he said.

“I’m sure they’re going to keep writing tickets and the only way to clear it up is for the state to investigate it,” he said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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