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Photo unit snaps GOP party chief speeding 109 mph

Arizona Republican Party Executive Director Brett Mecum was arrested at party headquarters May 6 for speeding and reckless driving after a freeway photo radar camera captured images of him breaking the posted speed limit by more than 45 miles per hour.

Department of Public Safety officers arrested Mecum, 30, at about 10:30 a.m. at the state Republican Party's main offices at 3501 N. 24th St., in Phoenix.

A stationary photo enforcement unit captured Mecum driving his car, a Ford Mustang Shelby GT, 109 miles per hour on the Loop 101 freeway near 59th Avenue just before 1 a.m. April 10, said Bart Graves, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The posted speed limit on the freeway is 65 miles per hour.

Mecum said in a public statement that he would wait to see what information DPS has collected about the incident before he decides to enter a plea. He added his arrest has no bearing on his job as director for the state Republican Party.

"I have every expectation that this matter will in no way compromise or effect my ability to do my job as executive director of the Arizona Republican Party as we continue forward right here, right now, with our aggressive plan to register more Republicans and enhance our fundraising," he said.

Mecum has been charged with one count of speeding for driving in excess of 85 miles per hour. He also is facing one count of reckless driving.

The speeding charge is a class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Reckless driving is a class 2 misdemeanor and carries a jail term of up to four months.

However, it is still unclear just how or if Mecum will be prosecuted by Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas. The Republican pledged in February that he would not consider criminal charges in photo radar cases.

At the time, Thomas said he believed photo enforcement laws were intended only to issue civil penalties and that speed-camera tickets do not allow people charged with criminal offenses to exercise their state and federal constitutional rights to challenge accusations against them.

Thomas has since backed away from that pledge. On April 2, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office informed DPS Director Roger Vanderpool that criminal speeding violations in excess of 20 miles per hour over posted speed limits would be prosecuted if the office could foresee a "reasonable likelihood of conviction for each and every element of the crime alleged."

That burden, according to the county attorney, includes the documentation of time, place and manner of the violation, as well as an establishment of the driver's identity.

Suspected criminal speeders are to be interviewed by the police, who must also provide the office with witnesses to argue that photo radar images are admissible as evidence.

The office also instructed that it would prosecute civil photo enforcement infractions if the charges were filed to back up more serious criminal charges such as hit and runs, reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol.

Graves said DPS is confident that Mecum will be prosecuted by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, but a spokesman for Thomas said the office is still determining whether or not to proceed against the GOP official.

 "It's still under review," said Mike Scerbo, adding he does not believe anyone has been prosecuted for photo radar-related criminal speeding violations since the enactment of the April 2 policy.

According to Graves, DPS arrests of individuals at their workplaces are increasing as it has been found there is a higher probability of locating suspects at work than at their homes.

Lt. Jeff King, DPS photo radar district commander, estimated the department has averaged three arrests a week for criminal speeding offenses captured by photo enforcement since the beginning of 2009.

Approximately 50 to 60 individuals have been arrested to date, but that figure pales in comparison to the estimated 870 individual speeding violations where photo radar systems have caught drivers exceeding 100 miles per hour since late-September of 2008, he said.

As of September 26, 187 violators have been identified for racking up 15 or more photo radar violations and not paying the resulting citations. One driver has triggered DPS photo radar systems 81 times, but the department has been unable to identify or locate the individual, who is believed to using fictitious license plates on a car that has possibly been stolen, King said.

In April, several identified drivers have been clocked exceeding 120 miles per hour, including one individual who reached speeds of up to 129 miles per hour on the I-17 near Bethany Home Road, he said.

At that rate of speed, a car is traveling 201 feet per second and would require slightly less than 800 feet- almost the length of three football fields- to come to a complete stop, King said.

"That's scary fast," he said. "That's ridiculous."

Lee Miller, an attorney for the Arizona Republican Party, said Mecum will have to hire his own defense attorney, if he wishes, to handle the matter.

"It was a silly, stupid thing to do, and there is no excuse and there's no justification for it. (Mecum) will be processed through the justice system like everyone else," he said.

 

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