Harkins retires (again)

Tom KingFarragut, Feature

In the last nine years, Ben Harkins has sat at a computer and watched more than 8,500 hours of videos. He’s sent $50 citations to, among others, a sister-in-law, a couple of former town of Farragut aldermen and a few town employees, law enforcement and fire vehicles and family friends.

This past June he announced his retirement as the town’s traffic enforcement manager. And he did it at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Farragut, of which he has been a member for 16 years. In doing so, he said that “about half of the members of our club have received a citation too and no one contested them.”

As you can see, Ben never “fixed” any tickets for family, friends and fellow Rotarians. It’s not in his DNA.

Ben brought to this job the judgment and skills acquired during a 32-year career with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office. He retired in 2009 as a KCSO captain and was the West District captain when Farragut first started considering the red-light camera program in 2007. Former longtime Farragut Mayor Eddy Ford asked Ben to assist the town in its decision-making process about the program. He was later asked to take the job. The red-light cameras became active in October 2009.

Jennifer Davis, who recently retired as a sergeant with the Chattanooga Police Department, replaced Harkins and started work this past May monitoring the red-light cameras at four intersections. Those locations are:

  • Kingston Pike eastbound at Concord Road and Concord Road northbound at Kingston Pike
  • Kingston Pike eastbound at Campbell Station Road and Campbell Station Road southbound at Kingston Pike
  • Kingston Pike westbound at Smith Road and Smith Road southbound at Kingston Pike
  • Campbell Station Road northbound and southbound at Parkside Drive / Grigsby Chapel Road

Ben shared the statistics for the past year: 9,483 suspected violations; total number of citations issued: 6,546.

“That comes to about 18 citations issued per day and considering there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 160,000 trips per day through the four camera-controlled intersections, the number of drivers running red lights is extremely small,” Harkins said.

Which intersection records the most offenders?

“Campbell Station Road. The approach of Campbell Station Road southbound at Grigsby Chapel Road and Parkside is where the largest percentage of violations occur,” he explained. “Most of the violations occur in the two left-turn lanes. This is an approach with five lanes of traffic and it can be confusing if you are not paying attention. The left turn lanes are long turns and I believe that many drivers have trouble judging the time and distance.”

Of the 9,483 suspected violations in the town in the last year, 3,287 were recorded at that intersection and 1,977 citations were issued, Harkins says.

When asked about some of the scary things he saw on these videos, he said: “There were so many scary incidents that it’s difficult to pick one. Not necessarily red-light violations, too. I reviewed many traffic crashes, some involving my friends and some very violent crashes. It was very scary knowing that your friends are in the vehicles.”

But he did recount one accident that really scared him.

“The scariest was probably eastbound at Kingston Pike and Campbell Station Road. With the light red, a SUV driven by a young female teen was traveling over the speed limit. She ran up onto the sidewalk (to avoid hitting cars) on the right side of the roadway, well before the intersection, and traveled across the intersection, striking one vehicle and then slamming into the large mast pole (holding traffic lights at the intersection) at the southeast corner of the intersection head on. The entire pole had to be replaced. This is an area that has a lot of pedestrian traffic and this could have easily resulted in a fatality. She was texting and thankfully she was not seriously injured.”

And he recalls the morning he turned on the computer and opened up the videos from Campbell Station Road at Smith Road. What he saw was shocking – a car flying through the intersection at 104 miles per hour at night with an 18-year-old male driving.

There were some testy times in court. One man came after Harkins with fists clenched and yelling. He said he was “a professional driver.” He stopped just short of Ben. “It’s a good thing that he stopped, because the court bailiff was standing right behind him and was ready to take him down if he had taken one more step. Crisis averted.”

He says there are three exemptions for a citation: emergency vehicles with their emergency lights activated, a funeral procession, or an intersection controlled by law enforcement direction.

Also, the cameras are active 24/7 and the videos have helped law enforcement determine fault in crashes and identifying issues with traffic or the traffic lights. “In one case the ownership of a car that was used in a get away of a hit and run driver was determined and one also was used by Knox County in the prosecution of a murder that occurred in Farragut. The video was used to determine a timeline of the suspect and victim’s vehicles.”

Did he enjoy this work? “I did. First, I believed it would make for better safety in Farragut and second, I believe that if you run a red light, there should be a price to pay for breaking the law.”

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