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Driven to Distraction D.C. Woman Charged for Tickets She Didn't Get By Petula Dvorak Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, February 1, 2001; Page B01
Virginia Edens does not own a Jaguar.
She doesn't own a Ford pickup, either.
That's what she keeps telling District parking officials as she walks the halls of city administration buildings, steadied by a cane, lugging envelopes thick with checks, registration papers and other documents proving that the collection notices for parking tickets that keep coming to her Southeast Washington home are for cars that don't belong to her.
"I keep explaining to them that I don't own these cars; they keep telling me the computer says I do," said Edens, 78. "How can a computer tell me I own all these cars?"
The Department of Motor Vehicles now says that Edens may be among hundreds of motorists who received similar erroneous tickets.
Twice in the past two years, notices for parking tickets have been delivered to Edens's home. The tickets show her name and her address, but the license plate numbers don't match the tags issued to her and her husband, and the cars described are neither the lipstick-red Cadillac nor the silver Lincoln Town Car the couple own.
Parking officials have asked for copies of all her paperwork showing the cars the Edenses own, then they send her to another office, then another, she said.
"Finally, after I spent about five days there, they told me I should just pay the tickets and get it over with," Edens said.
She marks each day spent at Department of Motor Vehicles offices with a thick red marker on her calendar: "Ticket." There are 12 of them.
When DMV officials were asked about the tickets last week, they pulled all of Edens's records and confirmed that she owns neither the Jaguar nor the Ford.
"Mrs. Edens should never have received these tickets," said Regina Williams, spokeswoman for the DMV. "But it's so strange. I look at all the records side-by-side and I can't figure out why these tickets came to her."
Williams said that the DMV has suspended all collection action being taken against her. But to figure out how those collection notices -- worth about $150 -- were sent to Edens, officials would have to analyze records from their contractor, Lockheed Martin IMS.
The one thing that the Edenses' cars and the other two vehicles had in common: Their registration renewals all came up between August and October 1999, Williams said.
"Apparently, what it looks like is that between a one-month and three-month period, some data indexes got crossed; there was a glitch," Williams said. "It could have happened to others."
It appears that the owners of the Jaguar and Ford did get tickets, but Edens's address was picked up from the database of people whose renewals were up at that time, Williams said. The DMV is trying to figure out a way to comb the records of hundreds of other motorists in the database whose information might also have been crossed with others, she said.
"If you get a ticket and don't believe it's yours, turn that ticket over and deny, deny, deny," Williams said. If a recipient takes action immediately, the fines and late fees will be suspended until there is some resolution.
But that wasn't possible by the time Edens received the collection notices.
"It's all in a computer, and you know they have brains of their own," Williams said.
The mistakes can be computer foul-ups, such as the glitch discovered this week, or simply stray keystrokes.
The latter appeared to be the case for Deborah Jordan, who said she also received a collection notice for a ticket she never received. The Maryland license plate number of the car that got a ticket was one digit different from hers, she said.
"The ticket was $15, and of course I could pay $15," said Jordan, 45, an advertising employee. "But the point is that I didn't get this ticket and I shouldn't pay anything."
When she first contested the ticket, a parking official told Jordan she should pay the fine and end the problem. "That was what really got me mad. I could feel their eyes rolling at me on the other end of the phone line," she said.
After she provided documents contesting the information on the ticket, parking officials told Jordan the problem would be eliminated. "But on January 16th, I came home and there was another collection notice waiting for me," she said.
Williams said that was clearly an error, that Jordan's ticket was supposed to be dismissed.
"We know we have image problems," Williams said. "We're trying."
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), February 02, 2001