By Jim Becker, KOLD News 13 Reporter
The stupid motorist law is supposed to make wash crossers who ignore warning signs pay for their rescues. But, clearly, drivers are still testing the waters and surprisingly few are picking up the tab. Drivers can get tickets for ignoring barricades, for wreckless driving, even putting their children in danger.
There is no ticket for being a stupid motorist. Under the law, fire departments can bill drivers for the cost of their rescues.
While the law has been in effect for seven years, fire departments here in Pima County haven't been collecting.
If county flood control's rain gages are filling up fast, it means a wall of water is headed down the mountain, fast, and drivers who don't pay attention to the barricades can and do get swept away, sometimes taking their children with them.
Luckily, many are rescued. It's not something rescuers look forward to doing.
"Because truly, a river rescue or a swift-water rescue is probably one of the most hazardous jobs that the fire department does," explains division chief Randy Karrer of Northwest Fire and Rescue, "just because of the unpredictability."
Karrer says his department already budgets for swift water rescues, so it's not as if they're hard-up for cash.
"We would bill more or less to number one, recoup expenses," he adds, "but number two, we would do that because we want to send the message that you cannot drive through those flooded washes."
But Karrer explains Northwest Fire hasn't had the opportunity to bill anyone. There are, afterall stipulations about that.
Under the law, water has to cover the road. The barricades have to be up, and people have to be rescued from a vehicle. Only under those conditions, a driver is liable for rescue expenses and an additional liability of no more than $2,000 dollars.
Sometimes the wash fills up before the barricades go up, and people still get stuck. They don't get a bill.
Back in January, Jonathan Tate pled guilty to three counts of child endangerment for stranding himself and his three kids last year. Legally, Rural Metro Fire could bill him, but it's undetermined whether they have.
Collecting on that bill is another matter.
Chief Karrer of Northwest says he would like to see even stiffer penalties on drivers who should probably know better.
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