North Pole man fined multiple times for displaying Christmas lights on his vehicle, goes to court
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Every holiday season, Doordasher Keith Fons displays Christmas lights on his vehicles.
On October 24, he was cited by the North Pole Police Department for “use of lights in colors not authorized.” Over the next three weeks, he received four more tickets for the same offense and a sixth ticket for failing to signal a turn.
“It just feels like since I refused to turn them off the first time they pulled me over this year. They literally singled me out for two weeks and just kept pulling me over for the same thing,” said Fons. “There’s no way that you can mistake my Christmas lights and my car for an emergency vehicle.”
North Pole Police Chief Steve Dutra says the regulation has been enforced over the years.
However, he does add police have some discretion over how they respond to certain situations. “There’s the spirit of the law, and the letter of the law, and every officer has to balance that and making sure that they’re doing right by the community,” he said. “This is not just about one person. This is about everybody else that drives on the roadways.”
Borough Assembly member Tammie Wilson said,” Five tickets are a little excessive, you know, on it, but at the same time, it’s just like if you went speeding down the road. If you know you’re breaking the law and you make that choice, that’s kind of the penalty that comes with it.”
In response to the situation, supporters gathered in November to hold a rally. Nearly 50 people decorated their vehicles with Christmas lights and paraded down Santa Claus Lane in North Pole.
Fons says state and local elected officials showed their support at the rally, including Wilson.
“Even Santa Claus came. Of course he did, right? It’s North Pole, but it was just, seeing that positive energy and everybody wanting to work together is just something you don’t see anymore,” said Wilson.
These tickets were scheduled for a court hearing, to be held at the Rabinowitz Courthouse in Fairbanks on December 29.
Fons’ goal by fighting the tickets is to have the law changed, but Dutra says it isn’t that easy. “It’s not a City of North Pole regulation. It’s a State of Alaska regulation adopted by federal standards,” Dutra explained.
One option, according to Wilson, would be to change the regulation through the governor’s office, allowing for exceptions. “Maybe it’s during this certain period of time that you can do it, or maybe within the city, the City of North Pole doesn’t feel like it’s a big issue,” she said.
Using that process, Wilson says the regulation could be altered before the next holiday season begins.
On December 29, Fons stood before Judge Matthew Christian at the Rabinowitz Courthouse for his hearing. “Even though it might be a gray line with the law, there should be some holiday spirit, and if that’s your intentions, you shouldn’t be fined. You shouldn’t get in trouble for spreading joy in Christmas town,” he said.
Ultimately, nearly all of the citations were dismissed by Judge Christian because the officer who handed them out failed to show up in the courtroom.
One ticket remained, from October 24.
Officer Abraham Knuteson, who issued the citation, testified about the incident. “I observed multi-colored lights on the top of the vehicle. They were blue, red, purple, green and yellow.”
Examining the regulation, Judge Christian concluded, “This is technically, within the four corners of the letter of the law as I understand it, unauthorized. However, when you review the statute in its entirety, it’s clear to the court that section, the intent is to make sure that people aren’t having overhead lights that would mimic a police officer or overhead lights that would mimic an ambulance and thereby cause panic to other drivers.”
“The court does have to find you guilty, but I’m simply going to impose a one dollar fine and order you to pay it within ten days and waive the surcharge,” he ruled.
“I do plan on paying the dollar, with a smile,” Fons said.
He said he plans to work with local legislators to get an exception to the current law.
For now, Fons said he’ll keep the lights on his car until January 1.
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