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High volume dials up hefty fine, tow charges

SonyFlowers 26 North Chicago kisses her daughter Antanae Carter 16 months as her sJasJordan 8 watches. Flowers was issued ticket

Sonya Flowers, 26, of North Chicago kisses her daughter, Antanae Carter, 16 months as her son, Jason Jordan, 8, watches. Flowers was issued a ticket for loud music by North Chicago police and had her car towed. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 8, 2011 12:19AM

NORTH CHICAGO — A driver said she was blindsided by a city ordinance against loud music that calls for not only a hefty fine, but the seizure and impoundment of vehicles — even for a first offense.

Sonya Flowers, 26, of North Chicago was driving home from her $8.25 an hour, part-time job in Grayslake at about 4:45 p.m. Aug. 1 when she was pulled over by two police officers at a mini-mart on Lewis Avenue. One of them informed her that her music was too loud, she said.

“I thought I was going to get a warning or maybe a ticket,” she said. “They didn’t discuss anything with me.”

Flowers said she burst into tears when almost immediately, a tow-truck showed up — from North Chicago Auto Service, directly across the street.

“My window was rolled up and my music wasn’t that loud,” she said.

Police, however, who told Flowers they had gauged the volume on her CD player with some sort of meter, left her with a ticket for $500, which included the cost of the tow. Flowers watched as her 2000 Pontiac Grand Prix disappeared into the garage’s impoundment lot.

After a hearing before a city prosecutor, she ended up paying $200 in fines and court costs and $195 for the tow and impoundment,

While Police Chief Michael Newsome didn’t return a call seeking comment, both Mayor Leon Rockingham and Chuck Smith, the city’s attorney, upheld what appears to be the harshest punishment for loud music in Lake County.

“It’s unfortunate things like this happen,” Rockingham said. “People say ‘It’s my standard car speakers.’ But I get phone calls from people that their walls are shaking and their windows are rattling. “

“We get a lot of complaints, particularly in the summer,” Smith said.

The City Council unanimously voted to amend Ordinance 862 in 2010, which outlines penalities of $150 for a first offense, $250 for a second offense and $750 for a third or subsequent offense committed within a one-year period. Third Ward Ald. Valerie DeVost faxed a copy of the amendment to the Lake County News-Sun after a search of ordinances on the city’s Web site failed to find one on excessive noise.

While DeVost said police officers could use their discretion on such stops and sometimes give warning tickets, Smith said officers are expected to follow the ordinance to the letter.

Other municipalities aren’t nearly as punitive. In Waukegan, drivers playing music audible from 50 feet face fines of between $75 and $300, depending on the time of day, but vehicles aren’t towed. In Grayslake, which follows the Illinois Vehicle Code, sounds audible from 75 feet or more can earn a ticket of $50.

Flowers is seeking help from the National Action Network of Lake County, which investigates allegations of unfair law enforcement policies.

“It does seem that enforcement and prosecution of these ‘so called’ ordinances are far more extensive in poor and underprivileged communities,” said Chris “Brotha” Blanks, director of the group. Blanks has challenged other vehicle seizure laws, including one in Waukegan which was overturned by a federal court.

Rockingham said people concerned about the penalties should contact their aldermen.

Meanwhile, Flowers has to find a way to repay the money she borrowed to get her car back — “an extra bill” she said she can’t afford.

“I’m not disputing people should play their music at a reasonable level,” Flowers said. “I respect my neighbors and I respect my community. But I felt this was my first offense. And it was just immediately ‘tow.’”

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