Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Duplicate license plates. A ticket from a state she’s never been to. A Virginia Beach legal team cracks the case.

A stretch of Old Country Road, which runs through central Nassau County on Long Island, N.Y. (Doug Kerr/Flickr)
A stretch of Old Country Road, which runs through central Nassau County on Long Island, N.Y. (Doug Kerr/Flickr)

VIRGINIA BEACH — When a Virginia Beach paralegal was given a case she couldn’t crack she took it to the “front page of the internet” — Reddit — to find clarity for her client.

Brandy Bollen, 43, is a paralegal for Cheryl Eddy Benn, a Virginia Beach attorney who has practiced law in New York as well as the Commonwealth. Recently, the legal duo received a new client named Cindy Welton with a complicated problem.

The 59-year-old woman told them that in August she returned to her Chesterfield home after vacationing in Myrtle Beach. When she checked her mail she found a $105 traffic ticket from New York alleging that her daughter’s car had run a red light in Nassau County.

Welton knew that couldn’t be right because neither she or her 25-year-old daughter, Haley, had ever been to the Empire State.

“We’ve never been to any part of New York,” Welton said. “I thought, ‘Well this is going to be easy to solve because it’s not our car.'”

And as it turns out, it wasn’t the Welton family car that drove through the red light, but apparently, another vehicle that was issued the same vanity license plates as the Weltons by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles; however, a simple call to the DMV wasn’t enough to figure out what was going on. It took posting the problem to Reddit for Bollen to figure out what’d happened.

‘They didn’t believe her’

Before she came to Bollen, Welton contacted both the Virginia and New York DMVs, as well as the Virginia State Police, to no avail.

Bollen said that despite the fact that the car pictured in the New York traffic camera footage wasn’t the Welton family’s gold Toyota running the red light, officials weren’t willing to drop the case. They said that it didn’t matter that the car didn’t belong to Welton family because the license plates did.

“They didn’t believe her,” Bollen said.

That’s when Bollen logged onto Reddit and set up a post seeking help.

Reddit is a social forum that touts itself as the “front page of the internet.” More than 230 million users on Reddit post comments, pictures and videos to threads categorized by specific interests. Among those is a Virginia thread, where Redditors can discuss topics concerning the Commonwealth.

Bollen said she’s been using Reddit for fun for about a year, and decided to reach out to others about Welton’s problem on the social media site because it’s the kind of forum where “someone would know something.”

“It’s somewhere I could go where people know more than me,” she said.

Her post read, “Any contacts with the DMV? I’m a paralegal in VA Beach and have been contacted regarding a very interesting situation where it appears that two unique individuals have the same exact license plate.”

The post — which Bollen has since deleted — got 27 comments, including one from a user who works for the state’s DMV and who messaged Bollen personally. A screenshot of Bollen’s post was also given to an official at the DMV who was able to help her get in touch with someone at the state office.

By the time the ticket traveled that far up the food chain, the DMV realized that Welton’s daughter had received a duplicate vanity license plate that was already registered to another driver due to a “glitch” in the system, Bollen said.

“This is a very uncommon occurrence, so we don’t expect it to happen again,” said DMV spokeswoman Katy Lloyd. “We’re able to access a customer’s records, and it didn’t cross in the system.”

With the proof in hand, Welton and Bollen were able to get the New York traffic ticket dismissed. Welton and her daughter also returned their set of vanity plates to the DMV and were issued a new registration.

“Poor Cindy has been trying to work it out since summer,” Bollen said. “Thank God it was just running a red light.”

Send news tips to adrienne.m@wydaily.com.

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