Nearly identical plates causing major hassle for Virginia woman

SOUTH RIDING, Va. — A Northern Virginia woman has been hassled for months over two unpaid parking tickets issued to a car with nearly identical plates to hers.

Clare Pilkington’s license plate is PICKLS and is registered to a Chevy Tahoe. The unpaid tickets were written for a Lexus with the license plate P1CKLS. A WTOP Ticketbuster investigation found the discrepancy and also revealed vastly different responses between Montgomery County and District of Columbia officials.

David Kiley, a D.C. police officer of the 2nd District, issued the first bad ticket last Sept. 25 for violating a “No Standing During AM or PM Rush” sign at 6:10 p.m. at 3400 Connecticut Ave. NW. The ticket lists the offending vehicle as a Lexus SUV. Pilkington first learned about the ticket on Nov. 6, when she received a notice of unsatisfied tickets in the mail.

“It was a little bit annoying, because they were charging me $100 for the fine and a $100 penalty, so a total of $200. But how can you be late about something you never got in the first place? I was angry,” Pilkington says.

“First I tried to call the 866 number, 311 and the 202 number on the notice and you cannot get a human being on the phone. This would have been an easy fix, if I got someone on the phone. But you can’t. It’s just absurd.”

Pilkington says she filed for online adjudication and wrote a short statement. She says she tried to attach her vehicle registration, but she couldn’t find any place on the website to properly attach the document. Pilkington isn’t the first person to complain to WTOP Ticketbuster about the online system called eTims, calling it hard to navigate and send all your information through. She mentioned the discrepancy and expected D.C. DMV would pull her Virginia driving record.

But on Jan. 6 of this year, D.C. DMV hearing examiner Alicia A. Roshell ruled against Pilkington. The D.C. DMV adjudicates all parking tickets in the District.

“Adudication Service Hearing Examiners review each piece of evidence and make decisions based upon your responses and applicable D.C. law. You were found liable for the infraction described above. According to DMV records, you were cited for violation of rush hour regulations. As the registered owner of the vehicle listed, you are being informed of the Hearing Examiner’s decision,” Roshell writes.

Pilkington appealed the decision to the DMV Traffic Adjudications Appeals Board (TAAB) and again told them it wasn’t her car. She also contacted WTOP Ticketbuster. As we researched her case, Pilkington received a second ticket in Montgomery County. That ticket was written on Jan. 22, and she received an unpaid notice on Feb. 14. It also listed the vehicle as a Lexus SUV. At that point, Ticketbuster contacted the Virginia DMV to clarify the issue.

“Without providing any personal data, I can confirm for you that the PICKLS with an ‘I’ is registered to a Tahoe and the P1CKLS with the number one is registered to a Lexus. An important distinction for the entities researching this is the plate type, i.e. that PICKLS with an I is on a Virginia Tech Hokies plate,” writes Virginia DMV spokeswoman Pam Goheen.

Goheen sent the statement to WTOP Ticketbuster, Montgomery County and the D.C. DMV on Feb. 18. Within hours, Montgomery County parking officials contacted Pilkington and WTOP Ticketbuster.

“The citation to Pilkington has just been confirmed removed from the system. For our purposes, the citation was not dismissed. It was properly reassigned to the correct license plate in violation. After receiving the information you provided from the Virginia DMV, we requested our citation management contractor to assign the original citation using the correct license plate of P1CKLS, Virginia tags. Once that was done, the Pilkington’s assignment record was automatically removed. It is no longer in our system,” writes Eduardo Mondonedo, chief of the Parking Operations Section at the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.

“I do regret our enforcement officer made the mistake in entering the license plate. The officer has been notified and written up for not recording plates thoroughly and accurately.”

Mondonedo’s supervisor, Rick Siebert, also contacted WTOP to express his regret and asked WTOP to apologize to Pilkington.

However, the D.C. DMV refused to re-open Pikington’s case, although the agency received both the Virginia DMV statement and Montgomery County’s response.

“Please inform your listeners that they should provide D.C. DMV with all of the supporting documentation when they submit their request for adjudication. If a customer decides to appeal a ticket, then only the original information submitted will be considered,” writes D.C. DMV spokesperson Vanessa Newton.

“On DC DMV’s website it states: ‘The Appeals Board considers the ticket, testimony, evidence presented at the original hearing and the hearing transcript. There are no personal appearances before the Appeals Board. You also cannot submit additional documentation or evidence which was not presented at the original hearing.’ Additionally, on the appeals application, under ‘What the Appeals Board Considers,’ it states that the Appeals Board will not consider any evidence which was not presented to the hearing examiner.”

Newton told Pilkington she’d have to wait two years for an answer, unless the agency that wrote the ticket would be willing to void it. WTOP Ticketbuster pointed out that a Motion to Reconsider form could clear up the erroneous ticket much quicker.

“This ticket does not qualify for a Motion to Reconsider because the customer has appealed the ticket decision,” Newton writes. “Tickets that are in the appeals process are not reconsidered because they are no longer under the purview of a hearing examiner. They now are pending review by the Ticket Adjudication Appeals Board.”

WTOP Ticketbuster pointed out that DMV Director Lucinda Babers has testified before D.C. City Councilmember Mary Cheh for several years that the TAAB is understaffed and overwhelmed with cases, which is why drivers could wait two years for a decision.

We asked whether the Pilkington case unnecessarily clogs the system and exacerbates the problem.

“D.C. DMV is following the legal process. The purpose of TAAB is to enable customers who are dissatisfied with the hearing examiner’s ticket decision an avenue to appeal the ticket, which the Pilkingtons have done. There are many customers who have appealed their ticket decisions and are waiting for a response. To be fair to all customers who have appealed their ticket decisions, the Traffic Adjudication Appeals Board reviews decisions in the order that they are received,” Newton writes.

Pilkington believes her case shows that the process works in Montgomery County, that government answers to the people, but that D.C. officials are simply interested in getting your money.

“The e-mail from Montgomery, they owned up to it, apologized and took care of it immediately. I just don’t understand why it can’t be that simple in D.C. We’re showing the same evidence, the exact same information. But DMV says once it’s in this stage of the Appeals Board, you have to let it run the course. It doesn’t make any sense. It just makes me angry,” she says.

Under the Traffic Adjudication Amendment Act, the DMV would be allowed to reopen such a case with overwhelming evidence to exonerate the driver. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember Jim Graham introduced the bill last June because of the issues WTOP Ticketbuster raised.

“Vanessa Newton (DMV spokesperson) keeps telling me you had your chance basically, you should’ve sent this information two steps ago. This proposal is a good idea because it would allow me to send the new evidence and make it simpler,” Pilkington says.

She adds, “I plan to submit written testimony to Councilmember Mary Cheh telling her about this case. I will tell her how easy it was to work with Montgomery County and ask her what the problem is at the DMV. Why are they so unresponsive and unhelpful?”

Cheh will hold an oversight hearing on the DMV’s performance on Friday, with several drivers already signed up to share their stories.

D.C. Finally Admits The Error

Newton told Pilkington that if she wanted to get the ticket fixed immediately, then she’d have to contact the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Pilkington contacted 2nd District Commander Michael Reese, because it was one of his officers who wrote the ticket. Reese apologized to Pilkington and told her that someone would investigate her case.

On Friday, Feb. 21, MPD Program Manager Lisa Sutter contacted Pilkington to tell her the ticket was dismissed. And while it took three days longer to fix the ticket in the District, compared to Montgomery County, the hope is this won’t happen again.

“I’m sorry you had to go through a lot to get this resolved but I wanted to let you know that MPD, as the issuing agency, will be asking DMV to void the ticket. This should take a week or two and they will send you notification in the mail. You will receive a full refund of the amount you paid including any appeal fee within the next couple of months, and sooner most likely,” Sutter writes.

But after an ABC7 investigation found that another driver had to wait six months to receive her refunding, WTOP Radio plans to follow-up with MPD to make sure the void request will be sent to DMV.

“I’m extremely pleased with the quick response from MPD. They returned my e-mails and followed up with phone calls, assuring me they would take care of this, and were very apologetic,” Pilkington says.

“I couldn’t be happier with WTOP Ticketbuster. From the first time I contacted your program online, Ari Ashe was responsive and really cared about helping us fight these tickets. We saved countless hours of time because Ticketbuster knew who to contact to help speed up the process. Thank you so much Ari and Ticketbuster!!”

If you think you’re the victim of a bogus speed camera, red-light camera or parking ticket in D.C., Maryland or Virginia, WTOP may be able to help you cut the red tape. Email us your case – along with documentation – to ticketbuster@wtop.com.

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