Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Coraopolis Man Ignored Tickets, Jailed 15 Days Did the District Judge Go Too Far?

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Coraopolis Man Ignored Tickets, Jailed 15 Days Did the District Judge Go Too Far?

Article excerpt

Patrick LaRocca had every chance to get it right. He could have simply put some quarters in the meter in front of his house on Fifth Avenue in Coraopolis and avoided the tickets entirely.

Or he could have bought a $20 parking permit each month to avoid the meters.

Or when he received the $2 tickets from the borough police department, he could have paid them.

But, the 22-year-old did none of those things.

And ultimately he spent 15 days in jail because of it.

"I take personal responsibility, to an extent. I understand I should be punished for my crimes, but I see that as extreme punishment," he said.

The problem started when Mr. LaRocca got his own car. He also started getting tickets. At his parents' home, there were four vehicles, but space for only one in a garage, so he had to park on the street.

Mr. LaRocca never got a parking permit, and often forgot to feed the meters.

The tickets piled up until he had 10 that were unpaid. He received a notice, dated April 15, from District Judge Mary Murray setting a summary trial for him June 6. The judge could not be reached for comment.

Mr. LaRocca entered a plea of not guilty April 24, paid $150 cash in collateral and filled out a financial statement noting he earned $120 per week on the Gateway Clipper as a steward.

But, Mr. LaRocca forgot to attend the hearing, and he was found guilty on all the tickets in absentia. He was sent a notice "of impending" warrant July 15, and the actual arrest warrant was issued Aug. 6 for failure to pay.

He learned about the bench warrant for his arrest in late August or early September and said he went to the district judge's office to try to address it, but he said, "They wanted the full amount."

That day, they let him go.

"The plan was to try and get the money together," he said. But he didn't, and on Sept. 25, he woke up with a constable outside his door.

Mr. LaRocca was arrested wearing a T-shirt, shorts and shoes with no socks and taken to Judge Murray's office.

"The constable asked me repeatedly if I had the money to pay the fines or if I had anyone I could call to borrow the money."

The tickets had ballooned to between $111 to $144 each.

At her office, Judge Murray handed Mr. LaRocca a sticky note that said, "15 days in jail or $1,346."

"I said, 'Well, I don't have that kind of money. I guess I'll take jail.' "

He said the judge never offered to set up a payment plan.

Mr. LaRocca, who has no previous criminal record, was taken to the Allegheny County Jail, where he was held for the first five days in the intake unit -- where there was no mattress or blanket on the metal bunk, and he guessed the room temperature to be a constant 60 degrees.

"Initially, it was borderline torture," he said. "My shoes had become so rank I couldn't even stand myself."

There also were no showers. …

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