Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Coming back to haunt me

$300 may not seem like a huge amount of money, but when you have only $0, it's a lot. When the police wrote up all those tickets I was already struggling just to pay my rent and utilities. My two roommates had moved out and I'd replaced them with one roommate who could only pay a third of the bills. The only reason I wasn't starving was that the restaurant I worked for part-time would feed me.

My bad tooth had developed an abscess which, if you haven't had one let me tell you, is a very painful experience. There's a place downtown that will extract your teeth for free. They only do it on Saturday mornings, and you have to get there early. The first Saturday that I went, I got there about a half hour before they opened. Unfortunately they only can accept the first ten people, and I was eleventh in line. I, and the people in line behind me, were turned away.

For the next week the pain got progressively worse. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I searched the Internet trying to find out exactly how much aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen I could take without it killing me. I tried to obtain painkillers from other sources. Just anything to reduce the pain. The most effective thing I found was a combination of acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and alcohol. The problem with this is these things put a lot of stress on your liver. Your liver needs to break down the toxic chemicals, and the combination of acetaminophen and alcohol is more than it can handle. When you are taking too much acetaminophen you actually begin to feel the toxicity building up in your system. You get this nasty chemical taste in your mouth, throat, and sinuses that pervades your every breath. It's very unpleasant, but not nearly so much as an abscessed tooth. Even so, waves of pain would come that were still unbearable. I seriously considered trying to knock the tooth out with a hammer and screwdriver.

When the next Saturday rolled around, I was up early. Actually, I hadn't been able to sleep at all, so getting up early wasn't a problem that morning. I left when it as still dark and the sun was just coming up as I got to the north side of Jacksonville. I was there an hour early, but this time there were even more people waiting. The line stretched from the front door of the house to the sidewalk, and nearly down to the corner. Some were standing and some were in lawn chairs that they had brought. It reminded me of people camping out for front-row tickets to a big concert, just not as festive. This is what people do that have no money and no insurance. If it happens here, it probably happens everywhere else in this country. I'd never even thought about it until it happened to me.

As I drove back home I realized that I was going to have to sell my car. I needed $665 to have the tooth pulled and it just couldn't wait. I also needed close to $300 to pay my tickets and I couldn't put that off any longer either. I had a 1986 Mustang GT Convertible with 160,000 miles and a lot of body rust. It was kind of ugly, but it ran great and it was my favorite car I have ever owned. I had planned on restoring it if I could ever get the money to do it.

I put the Mustang up for sale on Craigslist and priced it to move at $1200. I'd planned on holding out for $1000, but when one prospective buyer pulled out $800 in cash, I had to take it. I couldn't bear the tooth any longer.

This didn't leave me with enough to pay for both things, so my mother was kind enough to help out. With ten days to spare, she mailed a check for the tickets to the County Clerk's office. A couple weeks later I received my receipts showing the tickets were paid. I also verified on the DMV website that the tickets had been marked as paid.

A neighbor of mine had an old Honda that had over 200,000 miles on it and a salvage title--it was a totaled vehicle that someone had picked up from a junk yard and made roadworthy again. He couldn't get much money for it so he was going to donate it to his church. He ended up giving me the car because he felt bad for my situation, and I'd been helping him learn how to use Linux on his computer. If it wasn't for him, I probably still wouldn't have a vehicle.

In my last post I mentioned getting locked in the back of a police cruiser a few weeks ago. Here's what happened:

A friend and I went for a cruise up to Fernandina because it was a Sunday, we were both broke, and there was nothing else to do. On the way back, about a mile from home we passed a stopped police cruiser. I checked my speedometer to confirm that I was driving within the designated speed limit. He followed me for a minute, then turned at an intersection.

However, a moment later I saw the flashing lights of a police car approaching from behind. I pulled over, and another police cruiser showed up on the scene as well. When the officer came up to my car he asked me, "Are you Todd ______?" I told him I was, and he asked me to step out of the vehicle.

Once I was out of the vehicle he asked me to walk to the front of his car. In front of his car he had me spread my feet apart and to put my hands on the hood. As he was searching me I said, "There's something I should probably tell you." I told him about the identity theft, and that even though my record says a lot of awful things about me, that they weren't true. I told him that I was working with the local police and the State Attorney's Office to get it fixed.

He asked me if I was aware that my driver's license had been suspended three times and I told him that it must be a mistake because I had no outstanding tickets and I hadn't received anything saying that my license was suspended. He asked me if I had any drugs or weapons or anything else in my car that he should know about. I told him that there was nothing illegal in my vehicle and that he was welcome to search it.

He talked to the officer from the other vehicle for a moment and then turned back to me and asked me to step around towards the back of the vehicle. He said, "I'm not going to handcuff you, but I need you to sit in the back of the vehicle until I get this sorted out." I told him I understood and climbed into the back of the police car.

The police cars here don't have regular seats. The seats are made of molded plastic, like those booster seats restaurants keep for little kids. They put these seats in the police vehicles to make it easier to clean up the vomit, urine, and blood. Although I'm not claustrophobic, being locked in the back seat of a cop car definitely makes me uncomfortable--especially when I don't know how long I'm going to be locked in there.

The officer had my friend get out of the car and searched him and the interior of my car as well. While I was waiting I looked at the computer in the cop car. It showed no warrant thankfully, but it did still show the multiple AKA's attached to my record. When the officer came back I pointed out the little "B" on the computer screen that indicated the the perpetrator was black, not white.

He let me out of the car and told me that he was going to let me go home instead of taking me to jail because there was obviously something messed up with my record. However he said that he still needed to issue the ticket because my license had definitely been suspended. I had to let my friend that had never driven a stick before drive my car home.

Before I left I asked the officer if I should have been notified about my license being suspended. He told me that I should have received a separate notification for each of the three suspensions.

The next day I began investigating why my driver's license was suspended. I started with the six documents I'd received regarding the paid tickets: three receipts from the County Clerk, and three receipts from the DMV. In Jacksonville you have to pay your tickets to the County Clerk, and they forward the information to the DMV. This is why I received two receipts for each ticket.

Before I go any further, let's say my address is "123-1 26th Ave North" (actually it's not 26th Ave, but at this point I don't feel like giving out my real address--however the rest is exactly as it is printed on my driver's license.) This is the address that's been on my driver's license since I moved to this address over four years ago. On each of the documents the address was typed wrong. It was typed four different ways, none of which was the proper address. These are the addresses on the documents:

1231 26th Ave N -- my street, but 11 blocks away
123 126th Ave N -- not a valid address
123000 126th Ave N -- not a valid address
123100 26th Ave N -- not a valid address

Now, keep in mind, all three of these tickets were issued at once. All three tickets were paid at once from one check. My driver's license has and has had the correct address on it for over four years. The check was mailed ten full days prior to the date it was due to be suspended.

I also looked at a copy of the the check. The deposit time on the back of the check is 1:30PM, October 4th. Payment was due October 3rd. My mother had mailed the check by Priority Mail on September 23rd.

The first thing I had to do was to get my license re-instated. I called the DMV and they said I'd have to bring the receipts to one of their offices and pay a $47.50 "service fee" to have it re-instated. I got my neighbor to drive me to one of their offices, but it was Monday and according to the sign on the door, the DMV is closed every Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

On Wednesday I was able to find another ride to the DMV. I showed the lady behind the counter my receipts and pointed out the errors. I asked her if that was why I didn't receive any notification of suspension. She said that the County Clerk's office had clearly put in the wrong addresses, and that the notifications would have been sent to the wrong addresses. She said that there was nothing she could do about the $47.50 service fee because it was not the DMV's error. She said that she believed the judge would dismiss the ticket because there were so many obvious errors. However, she said that she was not allowed to give me anything in writing stating this. I wrote a check for $47.50, then she handed me a receipt and told me that I was once again legal to drive.

Next I had to set up the court date for the ticket. In Florida, driving with a suspended license is a criminal offense and requires a court appearance whether you plan to plead guilty or not. I called the town where I'd received the driving while suspended ticket to set a court date, but they informed me that I would have to schedule with the County Clerk's office. For some reason I have to go to court at the county courthouse, even though the ticket was issued by a local police department.

So, I called the County Clerk's office regarding the problem. It took several hours to get through. Most of the time it was busy, the rest of the time I would just sit there on hold waiting for someone to answer until I was eventually disconnected. I spent a couple hours doing this before I finally was able to get through to someone.

When I finally got through the woman that answered told me that I could not arrange for the court date over the phone, and that I had to appear in person in order for them to set a date. Please tell me I'm not the only one that thinks this whole process is completely ridiculous!

While I had her on the phone I asked her about the errors on the receipts. After looking them up she said, "Well, someone really made a mess of this. The judge should dismiss your ticket." When I asked if I could get that in writing, she said "No, we don't do that." Of course not, you can't expect people to be accountable for their mistakes.

The next step of this long drawn-out process was for me to drive to the County Clerk's office. While I was there, I showed the deputy clerk the errors on my receipts. He agreed that someone had clearly screwed up in the process and that was why I'd never been notified. Then I showed him a copy of the check that had paid for the three tickets I had received. I asked why they waited so long to deposit the check.

His response was that you should never mail a check to the Duval County Clerk's office. He said that the office that receives the checks would regularly let the checks sit around a week or more before processing them. He told me that I should always bring the ticket in myself, that way I would get a receipt with the actual date the fine was paid. He told me that he also thought the judge should dismiss the ticket. And, no, I couldn't get him to put that in writing.

Well, 3 out of 3 government employees agree, the judge should dismiss this ticket. I hope the judge agrees as well because, as I mentioned before, driving while your license is suspended is a criminal offense here. And I really don't want that on my criminal record.

Next post: Need a laugh? I do


Anonymous said...

Were the back seats comfortable? Were they molded to allow handcuffed hands? Was it a fun experience?(problably not)

G27 Radio said...

I don't recall there being anything to accommodate handcuffs, so handcuffs would have made it especially uncomfortable.

I'd have to say I had more fun having my tooth extracted. At least there were cute nurses at the dentist's office.