A California-based US Marine dependent racked up over $49,000 in toll road fees over a period of ten years- and she blames her debit card.
Sherri Hutton of Oceanside and her husband -Master Sergeant Michael P. Hutton- still owe $31,450 in unpaid fines for using California’s toll road system, according to the Orange County Register.
Hutton says that the issues began back in 2005, when her husband deployed to Iraq. During that time, Hutton was working full-time, raising three children and working with over 700 military families as a volunteer liaison. Between her duties and keeping one of her kids enrolled at his original school (rather than enroll him closer to home), she would often rack up four tolls per day.
While the Toll Roads mailed countless violation notices to Hutton, she never reports seeing any of them. Even when the company petitioned the court for a $29,900 judgement against her, the notice was sent by mail- and she claims she never saw it.
It would not be until 2007 that Hutton noticed something was amiss, when $11,030 of her wages were garnished. When she tried to contact the Toll Roads company -presumably- claiming that she had at some point changed her debit card, Hutton said that they were less than accommodating on reducing the fines.
“It was, ‘Too bad, so sad, you owe this and there’s nothing you can do about it,’” Hutton said.
However, the Toll Roads company did offer to allow for monthly payments. Unfortunately, Hutton was unemployed by 2008 and no payments were made.
In 2009, she would join a class-action lawsuit against the Orange County Transportation Authority, claiming the penalties were constitutionally excessive and that the collection procedures violated due process. When the company settled the case, Hutton was given a $5,000 credit, with the Toll Roads now recouping over half of her bill.
After a few years in Northern California, the Hutton family returned to Camp Pendleton last year, where Mrs. Hutton got a job working for the Department of Defense fire department in an administrative role.
Shortly after being assigned to the new post, Toll Roads named both her and her husband in yet another judgement, taking money from the family’s bank account in the process.
The Toll Roads has a “patriotic policy” that exempts active-duty military and their spouses from penalties on unpaid tolls. By Hutton’s logic, If officials would apply that policy here, it would transform Hutton’s $31,450 debt into a credit of more than $8,000 in her favor.
“I had always had an account in good standing up until that point, and we now have an account in good standing,” said Hutton, who is still battling the company in court.
Until the issue is settled, Hutton issues a grave warning to all who wish to auto-pay with debit cards.
“Don’t,” she said. Do direct to your bank account instead.”
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