How $29 Could Cost You Your Car, $10,000 And 3 Months In Jail


October 26, 2011 by esarsea

Welcome to Washington State.

A friend of mine was pulled over the other night by an officer of the Lakewood Police Department. Seems my friend was unaware he had a burned out tail light.

I’ve got no beef with the officer nor the Lakewood Police Dept. If you follow the news, Lakewood is where four officers were shot and killed at a coffee shop back in November of 2009. If anything, they deserve our respect and gratitude…but I digress.

My friend was also unaware his driver’s license was suspended. 

Without going into a lot of detail, his license was suspended as a result of not completely paying for a ticket he received after a snow and weather-related automobile accident last Winter (for not wearing a seatbelt). He sustained a concussion in the accident, and has very little memory of that day.

A few months later he learned of the citation from the accident when a collection agency came calling (he never received a ticket in the mail). He paid the collection agency off – or so he thought – and went on with his life as usual.  Then he was pulled over for the tail light, and the suspension came to light.

It seems there was still $29 left on his balance to the collection ageny, and as a result his license was suspended for not paying off his ticket. According to the collection agency, the $29, “was on record in a different office” than the one he was dealing with.

There is a new law in effect in Washington State that if you are caught driving on a suspended license, your car is impounded for 30 days. His car is now behind barbed wire and chain-link fence, accumulating storage fees that will total (according to the towing company) about $1700 by the time he is eligible to redeem his vehicle, plus a $100 fee payable to the Lakewood Police Department.

Furthermore, unless he can come up with 1/2 the estimated bill within 5 days of the impoundment, his car will be deemed “abandoned” and processed for auction.

But we’re just getting started. My friend is also facing a potential maximum penalty of $10,000 and 3 months in jail.

He doesn’t feel his car is worth the $1700 he will owe for it by the time he’s eligible to pay for it, so he’s considering just giving it to the towing company and letting it go to auction.

That’s all fine and well, except if the car only goes for $700 at auction, he’ll still owe the towing company the $1000 balance…or you guessed it…his license will be suspended again.

I understand the intent of the laws in our state, and the tough stance on driving with a suspended license. Habitual offenders, dangerous or wreckless drivers who endanger our safery need to be dealt with firmly.

But my friend is a good guy who honestly overlooked a $29 bill. It’s literally going to cost him his car – his only car – and now has the weight of possible jail time and excessive financial penalties hanging over his head as well.

Somehow, we need to find some balance and equity.

I know, I know…it’s not like he’s been falsely accused of murder and awaiting execution on death row, but I really feel for the guy.

And there’s nothing I can really do except write about it.


2 thoughts on “How $29 Could Cost You Your Car, $10,000 And 3 Months In Jail

  1. BigJeff says:

    If the right judge won’t make all that go away, then a lawyer and a newspaper article would at least expose the collection agency as predatory.

    • esarsea says:

      Just checked out your website Jeff…very cool! Good luck with it. You going to Skype lessons? I said skype like I’m all techie and stuff…never skyped in my life, only heard about it. Let me know how it goes.

      As for my friend, he’s opted to let his car go. He’s still got to pay the towing $200 to “let them” take his car and sell it at auction, but at least that way he’s protected from owing a lot more if the car doesn’t bring much when it sells.

      Oh, and check this out. A nice little “twist” our legislators tacked on this new law. He’s prohibited by law to bid on and/or buy his own car back at the auction.

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