Suspect held, but motive unclear in camera-van killing
by JJ Hensley - Apr. 21, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
It has come under attack from protesters, politicians and even a pickax-wielding resident, but sentiment against Arizona's photo-enforcement program had not turned to bloodshed until Sunday night.
Doug Georgianni, 51, of Cave Creek, was shot and killed while sitting in a van alongside the highway and monitoring cameras that snap photos of speeders.
Phoenix police arrested Thomas Patrick Destories, 68, on Monday in connection with the murder. Police said Destories was not photographed speeding, but they refused to speculate on any possible motives.
"Whether you agree or disagree with photo enforcement, what happened last night, folks, was an act of cold-blooded murder," state Department of Public Safety Director Roger Vanderpool said at a Monday news conference.
The shooting led both photo-enforcement providers in Arizona, Redflex and American Traffic Solutions, to suspend use of the mobile-enforcement vans until they can reassess their security procedures.
Investigators are still trying to piece together what happened Sunday night. They offered this version of events.
Georgianni, a four-month employee of Redflex, was in a photo-enforcement van parked on a dirt shoulder off the Loop 101 near Seventh Avenue shortly before 9 p.m., when an SUV slowly crept up alongside Georgianni's van, and someone inside opened fire.
A witness saw an older-model, two-toned SUV slowly pull away and exit the freeway.
Later, DPS Lt. Mark Remsey, who used to live in the neighborhood, thought the description of the SUV sounded familiar and drove through the area about 2:30 a.m. Monday. He saw the truck parked in front of a house.
"It kept going through my head that I recognized that unusual Suburban for some reason," he said.
Police watched the house until a man, later identified as Destories, moved the truck behind the house in "an obvious attempt" to hide the vehicle, Phoenix police Sgt. Andy Hill said.
Police arrested Destories as he left on his motorcycle a short time later.
Georgianni, a former golf pro in Prescott Valley and a graduate of Scottsdale's Chaparral High School and Arizona State University, leaves behind his wife, Jean, his parents, six siblings and a host of nieces and nephews.
"Everyone at Redflex is absolutely heartbroken at the loss of Doug Georgianni," said Jay Heiler, a Redflex spokesman.
Destories was booked into the Fourth Avenue Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder.
He has not received any tickets through the DPS photo-enforcement program, records and police say.
Doug Smith, a former employee at Destories' desert-tour business, said Destories had purchased a reflective license-plate cover for one of his cars and deemed it effective after the cameras snapped Destories but tickets never followed.
Public sentiment against photo enforcement started growing in September when the DPS began rolling out its program, which was to have 60 fixed cameras and 40 mobile units around the state. The agency had cameras operating at 36 fixed locations and in 42 mobile units before DPS administrators quit expanding the program in January.
State legislators are considering bills that could dismantle the program.
Rep. Sam Crump, R-Anthem, who has sponsored such legislation, released a statement on Monday calling for everyone to "reduce the war of words on this topic."
Authorities said Georgianni's death will not stop the program.
"Photo enforcement's not going away," DPS Lt. Jim Warriner said.
That has been the objective of photo enforcement's vocal opponents from the outset, said Jan Strauss, a former Mesa police chief who added that Sunday's shooting smacked of vigilantism.
"If you hate photo radar, and you want to have an impact, you shouldn't be doing anything like vigilantism," she said. "If you don't like it, go to the public forum. Start a public debate. Going out on your own, breaking the law doing destructive things isn't the answer."
Strauss was referring to Thomas Munroe Townsend.
Townsend, 26, took a pickax to a photo-enforcement camera near 59th Avenue and the Loop 101 late last year. He was sentenced to one year of probation and was issued a $3,500 fine but not before photo-enforcement critics came out in support of him.
"When you create an atmosphere where someone comes at a camera with a pickax, and people are talking about giving him a medal, logically it's going to continue to escalate, and it feeds the feeling that vigilante activity is appropriate or OK," said Josh Weiss, a spokesman with American Traffic Solutions, which is based in Scottsdale.
The vocal opposition that has emerged in Arizona, the first state in the country to employ a statewide photo-enforcement program, was not far from the minds of officials who tried to keep the memory of Georgianni at the forefront Monday.
"This is one of the most senseless murders that I've seen," Phoenix Police Chief Jack Harris said. "It feels like we lost one of our own police family in this senseless tragedy."
Can the cops protect you and me from criminals? Hell no! The cops can't even protect themselfs! In this case Redflex and ATS removed all their photo radar vans from the streets after Doug Georgianni a photo radar tax collector was killed operating one of the vans.
Photo radar vans back on city streets
by Jim Cross/KTAR (April 22nd, 2009 @ 6:13am)
Photo radar vans returned to the streets in four Valley cities Wednesday, under tighter security measures after a two-day suspension following the shooting death of a van operator on a state highway.
American Traffic Solutions said its vans resumed operations in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale and Avondale.
Photo radar vans on state highways -- operated by another company, Redflex Traffic Systems -- remained sidelined.
All the photo vans were parked after Doug Georgianni, 51, a Redflex operator, was shot and killed in his van in north Phoenix Sunday night. Thomas Destories, 68, is in jail as a suspect in the shooting.
American Traffic Solutions said Tuesday night that it has adopted "enhanced safety measures" after discussions with police in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale and Avondale.
"Our employees are comfortable with that," said Josh Weiss, director of communications for American Traffic Solutions. "We've met with them extensively to make sure that they feel comfortable."
Specific safety measures will not be publicly disclosed, Weiss said.
A redeployment date for vans in Tucson has not been determined, he added.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, which contracts with Redflex for photo vans on state highways, said its vans will remain parked for some time.
Lt. James Warriner said he expected the vans to be out of commission, at least until after Georgianni's funeral.
Warriner said DPS has been working on ways to try to make sure operators of the vans are safe.
News/Talk 92-3 KTAR received calls from several people who said they had seen more DPS vehicles focused on certain areas, but Warriner said DPS has not added extra patrols.
Officers have been told to be more vigilant, he said, adding they were reminded about "being careful, doing their jobs, just be aware of their surroundings, take the necessary enforcement action that they need to do to make our .highways safer."
Photo Radar Vans Back On Streets
American Traffic Systems Redeploys Vans In 4 Cities; DPS Says No Time Table For Its Vans' Return
POSTED: 6:23 pm MST April 21, 2009
PHOENIX -- The fatal shooting of a photo-radar operator in Phoenix has created a ripple effect on speed enforcement methods.
At first, both American Traffic Solutions, or ATS, and Redflex yanked their photo-enforcement vans off Valley streets, but on Tuesday night, ATS announced that the company's vehicles will be back on duty Wednesday in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale and Avondale.
"The decision was made on a city-by-city basis following consultation with local police departments and following a meeting with ATS employees in which local law enforcement personnel were present," the company said in a news release. "A redeployment date for vans in Tucson has not yet been determined, but we expect them to return soon."
According to the release, the vans will be returned to service with enhanced safety measures. The company declined to specify what those measures are.
ATS has contracts with eight cities and counties throughout the state.
Tempe announced that mobile photo radar enforcement is currently suspended in that city as well.
Tempe has a contract with Redflex, the company that employed Doug Giorgianni, who was shot and killed on the job Sunday.
A Redflex representative did not respond to email and phone requests about the status of photo radar enforcement in other cities.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety has indicated that they plan on using mobile photo radar in the future, but it is unclear when the redeployment would occur.
"We have no time table at this time," said DPS spokesman Lt. James Warriner.
Meanwhile, several motorists said they like the roads better without the mobile units.
"I think they should be taken off the street. I think we have enough cameras and I don't think we should endanger more lives," said Sue Anthony.
"I definitely think they will use them again soon. They make a lot of money that way," said Chris Hoffman.
Five bullets struck a DPS photo radar van Sunday night and three of them were grouped on the driver's side front window where Georgianni was sitting, a Phoenix police report said.
Georgianni, 51, was shot multiple times while sitting in the marked van parked on the eastbound side of Loop 101 near Seventh Avenue shortly past 8:45 p.m., police said.
Thomas Patrick Destories, 68, was booked into jail on one count of first-degree murder. He made an initial appearance Monday night.
A probable-cause statement released Tuesday said Destories told police he was sorry and had meant to turn himself in.
Arizona Police Photo Radar Operator Gunned Down
Monday, April 20, 2009
PHOENIX — The operator of a state police photo radar unit was shot to death in his vehicle, which was parked on a north Phoenix freeway to nab speeders.
The shooting occurred just before 9 p.m. Sunday on the Loop 101 and 7th Avenue.
The victim, 51-year-old Doug Georgianni, had worked for three months for RedFlex Traffic Systems Inc. The company has a contract with the Arizona Department of Public Safety to operate photo enforcement vehicles on state highways.
Video equipment on the photo enforcement SUV, which is marked as a DPS vehicle, showed the suspect vehicle was approximately a 1980s model two-tone, gray/white Chevrolet Suburban with a roof rack. The driver is described as a man who appears to be in his 60s, is white and has white hair and a white mustache.
Photo radar operator shot dead on Arizona freeway
Mon Apr 20, 2009 11:04am EDT
PHOENIX (Reuters) - A gunman has shot dead a photo radar operator on a busy freeway near Phoenix, police said on Monday.
Police officers were called to the radar enforcement vehicle after reports of gunfire late on Sunday, and they found the employee shot several times, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said in a news release.
The victim, 51, was taken to a local hospital, where he died from his gunshot wounds, the department said. He worked for RedFlex Traffic Systems Inc., which has a contract with DPS to operate photo radar vehicles on the state's highways.
Police said they were treating the shooting as a homicide and were searching for a man driving a white Chevrolet Suburban, a popular SUV.
Arizona is the first U.S. state to implement a state-wide photo radar system, though similar programs have been used in other countries.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor, Editing by Paul Simao)
Highway radar van operator shot to death in Ariz.
PHOENIX (AP) — Police in Arizona say they have a suspect in custody in connection with the killing of a man who was operating a state police photo radar unit along a highway in Phoenix.
Authorities did not immediately release any details Monday. The Phoenix Police Department said it planned to give out more information later in the day.
Police said the 51-year-old radar operator was shot Sunday evening and died at a hospital.
He worked for RedFlex Traffic Systems Inc., which has a contract with the Arizona Department of Public Safety to operate photo radar enforcement vehicles to identify speeders on state highways.
The Redflex company said Monday that it had taken its 40 mobile photo radar units out of service because of concern for the safety of its employees.
Photo-radar killing suspect: 'I'm sorry'
by JJ Hensley - Apr. 21, 2009 10:04 AM
The Arizona Republic
Thomas Destories knew why Phoenix police were talking to him as soon as the suspect in the murder of a photo-enforcement employee was pulled over Monday morning.
"I'm sorry, I was going to turn myself in. I didn't mean for anyone to get hurt. I saw it on the news," Destories told officers, according to a police report released Monday night.
"The gun is in the saddlebag," Destories said. With that, police arrested Destories, 68, on suspicion of murdering Doug Georgianni while he worked in a photo-enforcement van along Loop 101 on Sunday evening.
According to the report, a witness saw a Chevrolet Suburban, later identified as Destories' vehicle, pull up behind Georgianni's van about 8:45 p.m. Sunday, leaving the witness with the impression that the SUV was having trouble.
When the Suburban pulled up to a stop light at Seventh Street and Loop 101 a couple of minutes later, the witnesses realized there was no trouble and noticed the driver: a man with unkempt hair and a long moustache.
That description, along with good observation by a Department of Public Safety officer who used to live in Destories' neighborhood, led authorities to believe Destories might be involved, according to the police report.
After officers watched Destories' house and saw him move a Suburban matching the description of the suspected shooter's vehicle behind his house, they arrested the Cave Creek resident.
Investigators said Georgianni was sitting behind the driver's seat doing paperwork when the Suburban pulled up behind his van and somebody fired the shots.
The van was hit five times with large-caliber bullets, according to the report, with three of the five shots grouped in a tight pattern around the driver's side window, near where Georgianni was seated. The shooting prompted both companies that operate photo-enforcement programs in the area to pull the mobile units from highways and roads while they reassess security measures.
Destories had an initial appearance on Monday. He could face charges of first-degree murder and is being held on a $2 million cash bond.
April 22, 2009
Shooting suspect, 68, described as social, volatile
by JJ Hensley - Apr. 22, 2009 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Thomas Patrick DeStories doesn't have a lengthy criminal history, and the Phoenix resident didn't have a history with the state's photo-enforcement program.
Yet the 68-year-old is suspected of firing five rounds into a photo-enforcement mobile van Sunday night, killing 51-year-old Doug Georgianni who sat inside. DeStories is being held on a $2 million cash bond after his initial appearance on suspicion of first-degree murder in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Colleagues and relatives paint two images of DeStories: one of a gregarious outdoorsman, and one of a volatile man who enjoyed drinking and guns. DeStories was in his 30s when a bad economy drove him from New Jersey west with his brothers in the late 1970s, said former sister-in-law Alberta Warrington. DeStories found construction work in the Valley and also discovered a love of the desert, Warrington said. "They were a pretty volatile set of brothers," Warrington said of Tom and Michael DeStories, her former husband. "I was scared to leave (my son) with them 'cause they used to go out to the desert and shoot and drink and shoot and drink."
DeStories' affinity for the desert turned into work by the mid-1980s, with DeStories first taking tourists out to pan for gold along the Agua Fria River.
By the mid-1990s, DeStories founded Arrowhead Desert Tours and took corporate groups and tourists on desert jaunts.
Clay Adair bought the tour company from DeStories three years ago and said the suspect was a master at wooing clients.
"He loved talking to people and showing the desert. He's just friendly and outgoing and loved chatting people up," Adair said.
Adair said he was shocked when he saw the news.
"It's totally out of character for him. He's like the rest of us: a little bit on the cantankerous side. And nobody I know likes photo radar," he said. "But he wasn't anti-government, and he wasn't a gun nut, either."
Warrington, however, said she wasn't surprised.
"Tom was always sort of protesting. He was the first one to bitch and moan about everything coming down, the government in your face and all that," she said.
Phoenix police say a witness saw a Chevrolet Suburban pull up behind Georgianni's van parked near Seventh Avenue and Loop 101 about 8:45 p.m. Sunday.
Investigators said Georgianni, a four-month employee of Redflex Traffic Systems, was sitting behind the driver's seat doing paperwork when the Suburban pulled up and somebody fired the shots.
The witness gave police a description, and an observant Department of Public Safety officer who used to live in DeStories' neighborhood led authorities to his home.
DeStories knew why police pulled him over Monday morning.
"I'm sorry, I was going to turn myself in. I didn't mean for anyone to get hurt. I saw it on the news," he told officers, according to court paperwork. "The gun is in the saddlebag."
The van was hit five times with large-caliber bullets, according to the report, with three shots grouped in a tight pattern around the driver's side window, near where Georgianni was seated.
Police found a magazine for a .45-caliber pistol in DeStories' pocket when they arrested him, according to records.
The shooting prompted Redflex and American Traffic Solutions to pull the mobile units from highways and roads while they reassess security measures. ATS announced Tuesday night, though, that their cameras in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale and Avondale will be back up today.