Lakeland Police has change of heart, will void nearly 200 tickets for driving around barricade

Officers wrote 30,000 in tickets in two days

LAKELAND - The nearly 200 people ticketed in Lakeland for driving around a road closed sign, won't have to pay up in the end.

After ABC Action News aired a story earlier this week on their frustrations, Lakeland Police Chief Lisa Womack decided the signs may have been a little confusing.

The department will change all of the $164 tickets to warnings.

"I'm happy. I think it's fair," said Brenda Sell, one of the nearly 200 drivers who got caught last week in what she describes as a very confusing situation.

"Once you got to the barrier there was no where to turn around," she said. At that point, she said an officer waved her and countless others to the side of the road and wrote them a ticket.

Initially, Lakeland Police stood by its decision of writing nearly $30,000 in citations on Old Combee Road in less than two days.  Late Thursday, the department had a change of heart.

"With the amount of confusion, and with the citizen input that we got, we felt that it was in the best interest of not only the department, but the citizens, to change those tickets from citations to warnings," said Assistant Chief Larry Giddens.

He said his officers were not in the wrong because they had every right to hand out tickets.

Perhaps the biggest point of confusion is that one lane of the road remained open -- intended for first responders who don't have time for a detour.

Drivers like Brandon Smallwood who also received a ticket, say clearly the road was not totally closed -- like the sign said -- if there's oncoming traffic.

"That would have made the best sense to me is stop traffic in both directions. It would have been a lot safer," he said.

It's too late now.

Construction crews reopened Old Combee Road in both directions late Friday afternoon.

What was a headache for drivers is now a minor pain for police. Officers now must notify all 187 violators that their ticket has been voided.

Drivers who received a secondary violation for failing to show proof of insurance will still be on the hook for that fine.

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