Nearly every day, the Plainfield Patch police blotter is filled with people who have been arrested for driving with an invalid license, expired vehicle registration and lack of insurance.
We can debate ad naseum whether or not this is a good use of our police officers' time. That will be the next chapter, how there is a part of this whole process that is unquestionably both a waste of the police’s time and taxpayer money. This is about how one ordinary, otherwise law-abiding citizen ends up with their name and reputation smeared in the local papers for all their friends and neighbors to see.
First, just to clarify that I am not bemoaning an unfair ticket or two or even three. I just wanted to remind all of us, myself included, not to judge others. As I write this, I have yet to receive a moving violation. In my life. And yes, I do actually drive everyday.
I fully admit I have been lucky, as this story shows how things can spiral out of control for a person in relatively short order, with catastrophic personal consequences. I’m intentionally not using my friend’s name or any other personally identifiable information, as I think she has suffered enough humiliation.
My dear friend has had a rough stretch. Sometime late last spring, she received a moving violation, her first, for rolling through a stop sign in her subdivision, a few houses away from her own home. A relatively minor infraction, but she accepted full responsibility. She was prepared to go down to the courthouse and pay her fine and accept whatever the punishment was, hoping to take traffic school to keep it off her record. It was, after all, her first and only offense.
Then life through her a couple curve balls.
The following week, her teenage daughter hurt her back so badly, they scheduled surgery for just a few days later. The next day, her doctor called and told her that her yearly mammogram came back and they needed her to come in right away for a biopsy for a suspicious lump. Two or three days later she was still scared, crying and a general mess, so I drove her to that appointment.
The biopsy was on a Thursday, and the following Monday, before she even had her biopsy results back, while her daughter was still at home recuperating from back surgery her boss -- who was aware of all the dramas and traumas going on in her life -- informed her that due to the downturn in the economy, her position was being eliminated and she was laid off. The next day, as she was leaving her house to go to the unemployment office, a utility truck didn’t see her, and backed over the front end of her car.
An out-of-work family friend who does car body work was luckily able to bang out the damage around the front wheel of her car to make it driveable, but the hood was pretty much sealed to the body of her car.
Over the next few months, she was finalizing a divorce, selling her house and looking for a job. Of course, her car was then called in for an emissions test, which it failed. Because the hood of her car could not be opened, there was no possibility of fixing whatever was wrong with it to make it pass the emissions test. She continued to try to get some kind of a waiver for the emissions test, at least until the utility company would settle the insurance claim.
The problem was that the damage was more costly than what the insurance company deemed the car was worth, but the offer they made was less than she owed on the car. So, she had to get a lawyer and sue. The initial police report in which the utility truck driver claimed full responsibility had no bearing on the insurance company’s position, and she was informed it would now be months, maybe even years until the case would settle.
In the meantime, she still had to make payments on the car, out of her unemployment, while selling her house, finalizing her divorce and looking for a job.
Eventually, the state informed her the registration on her car was now expired and without a passing grade on the emissions test, she could not get the registration renewed.
By then, she had sold her house and moved in with her parents, which was a blessing for them. Her mother is in a hospital bed in the living room of her parents’ home with end-stage Alzheimers, and even with hospice care, it had become too much for her 76-year-old father to manage on his own. At least now she didn't need to drive back and forth to their house daily to help with her mother's ever increasing need for care.
Her father has a nice car, and still drives even with advanced age, because he likes to go to the grocery store, visit friends and family on his own, and basically maintain some level of independence. These excursions are actually good for him, as anyone who has cared for a loved one with Alzheimer's will understand.
It was while her father was on one of his excursions that the visiting hospice nurse informed my girlfriend that they had only one more adult diaper for her mom. They had been battling bed sores and diaper rash, and changing her multiple times a day was critical.
So, my girlfriend took a chance. She got in her car, for which she was still making payments to salvage some of her credit rating, but for which she had stopped paying insurance. She was barely making ends meet, and as it was sitting in the garage and not legal to drive due to the expired registration, she decided the car insurance bill was one she just had to forego.
She was going less than one mile to the pharmacy to get diapers for her mom.
I received an hysterical phone call, as she had just been pulled over. She was terrified, but was lucky in that she was only being ticketed and her car would be towed. If she could get someone to pick her up, the cop wouldn’t take her to the police station and officially book her.
She received tickets for no insurance, expired registration and a revoked license. You see, in all the drama and brouhaha of the past months, she had completely forgotten about that ticket from the previous summer and the court date. We’re guessing that somehow between the move and changing her name after the divorce, the notices about her missed court date and license suspension got lost in the chaos.
That is how my otherwise law-abiding, decent person of a friend ended up in the police blotter and subsequently in traffic court.
Now, when I read through the dozens of names of people in the police blotter with the same list of tickets and charges, I wonder how many of them are the victims of an almost surreal series of events. I don’t know about those other people, but I can say my friend fully admits that even though the circumstances that day were what they were, she was still wrong to get behind the wheel of the car. She knew it was wrong, but in the moment felt she didn’t have a choice.
It was a very expensive mistake. So far, it has cost over $2,600 in fines, fees, towing charges and impound fees, an amount most of us would find hard to bare. This amount doesn’t even address the cost of the now mandatory SR-22 insurance, or the hiked insurance rates she will face for the foreseeable future.
For someone who has been out of work and currently without the ability to drive even if she were to find a job, it has been truly catastrophic. Still, she really is a good person and blames no one but herself for her decision to drive that day. I’ve since wrangled a solemn oath on the heads of her children that she is to call me, anytime of the day or night, should she find herself in the position of needing to make an emergency run to the pharmacy.
Those who are without sin may case the first stone. Of this particular sin, I am blameless, yet I will still refrain from throwing even mental stones at the near daily list of names.