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Traffic court judges hear a lot of crazy excuses, but they also hear some very legitimate ones. It’s hard to comprehend how one traffic court could have been unimpressed by a doctor’s note explaining that a 20-year-old man’s minor traffic accident occurred because the young man had a heart attack behind the wheel. While dismissing two of three tickets that the man received in the mail, the municipal court judge still made the man pay a $133 fine for obstructing the passage of other vehicles.
Twenty-year-old Dan Langley, who has no history of heart disease, was driving in Spring Lake Heights, New Jersey. While he has no memory of the accident, what’s known is that he hit a Toyota at a traffic light, causing minimal damage to both cars. Langley got out of his car, staggered a few steps, vomited, and collapsed.
Langley was having a heart-attack. It’s probable that he survived only because Sgt. Andrew O’Neill, who responded to the scene, started CPR and got him to an ambulance and the hospital. O’Neill did not write a ticket.
Eight days later, however, on the very day that Langley had a defibrillator implanted in his chest, and two days before he was finally discharged from the hospital, Langley got three tickets in the mail: One for tailgating, one for unsafe operation of a motor vehicle, and one for reckless driving.
When Langley’s father, Chris, contacted the police, he was told that they would talk to the prosecutor about dismissing the tickets. That never happened. Instead, Langley showed up in court with a note from his doctor, Harold Cotler:
Please forgive Mr. Langley’s tickets due to his unfortunate experience of having a heart attack seconds prior to his car accident.
In a just universe, a note like that would result in the court dismissing all three tickets. What happened instead was that the municipal court judge dismissed the tickets for tailgating and unsafe operation of a motor vehicle, but refused to dismiss the reckless driving ticket. The only mercy the court showed was to downgrade the ticket, which comes with a $200 fine and five points on the driver’s record, to a ticket for obstructing traffic, which carries a still-hefty $133 fine, but doesn’t include points.
Chris Langley had the perfect epitaph for this distasteful example of local government run amok: “What’s the charge? Criminal cardiac arrest?”