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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

First A Carjacking, Then A $100 Speed Camera Ticket Thanks To Car Thief

Sam Royko's 2016 Audi was carjacked Jan. 16. On Saturday, he got a $100 "final determination" speed camera ticket letter from the city.

A speed camera warning on Archer Avenue.
Casey Cora/DNAinfo

WICKER PARK — Two months after his car was carjacked, Sam Royko got a speed camera ticket in the mail from the city thanks to the carjacker who stole his car.

To add insult to injury, the letter, received Saturday, was a final determination letter telling Royko he owes $100 and cannot fight it.

Royko said he never received the first notice, which would have given him a chance to fight the ticket. Now, he said he’s going to reach out to his alderman, Daniel La Spata (1st).

“So I have to pay $100 bucks for the carjackers to speed in my car? I’m going to scream at my alderman first,” said Royko, an attorney and son of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mike Royko.

La Spata did not return calls for comment, but the the city’s website states if a vehicle cited for a speed camera violation was stolen at the time, that’s a defense that can be used to challenge a speed camera ticket.

Royko’s 2016 Audi TTS, driven by his girlfriend Erin Groble, was carjacked in a Wicker Park parking lot at 1:30 p.m. January 16 near Division Street and Ashland Avenue when another car pulled up with three boys or men inside. Two got out of the car and rushed toward Groble. Along with the car, the thieves got her cell phone, purse and some packages in the car.

Royko said there have been no arrests in the carjacking and that his car is still being repaired after the thieves bottomed out while driving it, causing heavy suspension damage, and trashed the inside.

Royko said the thieves first headed south after the carjacking and used Groble’s credit card at a gas station. Then, based on the information on the camera ticket, the thieves got the speeding ticket on the 4400 block of North Western Avenue at 6:50 p.m., more than five hours after the carjacking.

“This means that one of the city cameras picked up my car almost six hours after it was taken and I’m able to get a ticket for it but no one was able to do anything about it at that point in time? I guess that shows where our priorities are,” Royko said.

The car was ultimately recovered three days later in the Chatham neighborhood.

Although the Chicago Police have dozens of police vehicles with automated license plate readers that scan plates and check them against a database of stolen vehicles, Chicago’s speed cameras are run by the City’s Finance Department and are not equipped to flag stolen vehicles, according to Chicago Police Spokesman Don Terry.

Cameras with automatic number plate recognition like the ones CPD uses to scan vehicles do not detect speed — and speed cameras only react on speed, according to Billy Campbell, a technical consultant and speed camera expert from the United Kingdom. 

“Speed cameras only react on speed. They cannot distinguish if a car is stolen or not and only the [automatic number plate recognition] cameras can if they have the info downloaded into their system,” Campbell said.

For now, Royko said he will hope the city takes mercy on his ticket fine and continues to hope the carjacking problem remains in focus — after the carjacking, Royko started The Greater West Town Community CoalitionFacebook page to help bring groups of people together that want to work on sharing information and providing answers about the carjacking problem.

“We need to get more effective at catching people who do this and holding them accountable. We need to figure out why this is happening and address the underlying causes. At this point it’s a public health crisis,” Royko said.

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