Their car was sold but the toll bills keep coming

Jean West and Warren_1383690088260_3969670_ver1.0_640_480

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) - An elderly Bastrop County couple was stuck with hundreds of dollars in delinquent toll bills for a car they sold last fall. And toll agencies say this scenario happens regularly.

Jean West, 89, and her 90-year-old husband, Warren McCullough, moved to a care center in Bastrop last April. With the help of their granddaughter, the couple sold the 2005 Buick they no longer needed.

“The man who came to look at it was a single father and he wanted a car his daughter to be safe in. And that’s all I knew about it,” West told KXAN.

When the car sold in November 2012 to the single dad’s mother, the Texas license plates went with it on the assumption the new owner would swap them out once the title transferred. But before long, Jean and Warren started receiving toll bills in the mail.



“I just thought they haven’t had the title of the car changed, West said. “And I just sent (Texas Tollways) a little check for $4.35. No big deal. I just sent them a check. Paid it.”

But as the weeks turned into months, the bills kept coming. Then came violation notices from two separate toll agencies for tolls on roads as far as 70 miles from Jean and Warren’s home. Records show they included:

  • 290 East at Springdale and US 183
  • Loop 1 Merrilltown Plaza and Wells Branch
  • Loop 1 Wells Branch/Howard
  • SH 130 Decker Creek and Cameron Plazas
  • SH45N at four separate plazas (Lake Creek Plaza, Heatherwilde Plaza, RM 620, Parmer Lane Entrance).

Jean stopped paying. “I didn’t feel like I was being imposed on until they started doubling up, coming in three at a time,” she said.

Finally, after complaining to the toll agencies, Jean and her family members realized they didn’t submit a required Vehicle Transfer Notification to the department of motor vehicles.They did that in April.

But the violation notices for back payments due in January, February, March kept coming in. The DMV wrote to them at the end of April reminding them the seller’s name (theirs) would remain on the vehicle record until the new owner transferred the title to his or her name.

GOING IN-DEPTH // Protect yourself when selling your car
  • Remove the license plates and anything else any that identifies the vehicle as yours.
  • Make sure your buyer transfers the title within 30 days.
  • Do not ignore bills from toll companies, even if you believe you don’t owe them.
  • Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles with questions.

And that didn’t happen until June of this year. That’s when that buyer, Sheila Saul reregistered the Buick after Jean and Warren’s car registration finally expired.

“I think they took advantage of a situation, West said. “They figured that old couple don’t know any better and we’ll just ride this as long as we can.”

The toll bills and violation notices from January through this March totaled $250.

In a phone interview, Saul acknowledge that the Buick’s title hadn’t been changed within 30 days as the law requires. And those outstanding tolls charged to the elderly couple were her and her son’s responsibility.

But weeks after KXAN provided her with copies of the toll bills, Saul did not return numerous messages. And she never contacted Jean and Warren, and didn’t confirm she paid the toll bills. So we caught up with her outside her home.

She told KXAN to talk to her attorney before getting in her car and driving away. Saul never provided her attorney’s information.

So it appears Saul’s son drove Central Texas tolls for free for months.

KXAN checked with the DMV and for fiscal year 2013, there have been thousands of delinquent title transfers:

  • 324,771 from auto dealers
  • 217,507 from individuals

State law levies a $25-per-month penalty for delayed transfer of a vehicle’s title — but only after 60 days. Since Warren and Jean didn’t file the vehicle transfer notice with the State Department of Motor Vehicles until April, and Sheila Saul finally transferred title two months later, Saul and her son would only get stuck with a single $25 penalty.

How much the state  collected for delinquent title transfers in the past 12 months:

  • $1,679,024 from auto dealers
  • $8,363,530 from individual sales

“You don’t think people are dishonest,” said Jean West. “You don’t think people take advantage. You think most people are honest, they’re not.”

But Jean wouldn’t give up. KXAN was there for a phone call to Texas Tollways where with KXAN’s help she submitted proof of the car’s sale — a copy of the cashier’s check from Saul — and a signed copy of the state’s title transfer form. Within 24 hours she received word the collection fees at both Texas Tollways and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority had been waived and nearly $250 in toll fees were being transferred to Sheila Saul.

“I can’t tell y’all how much I appreciate what you’ve done,” West told KXAN. She said the whole matter was causing her to lose sleep.

An interesting note: One of the two toll agencies involved thanked KXAN for bringing this frustrating issue to their attention – one which had dragged on for months.

“We were pleased you were able to do this as well,” said Rick L’Amie, Manager of Communications with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

“We’re very focused on customer service. We want to be sure when people contact us we give them the right information. And sometimes the information doesn’t get across as quickly as it should have. So as soon as we were aware of the time frame and what was required, we were glad to assist.”

Most important, DMV advises you file the vehicle transfer notice as soon as the sale is complete, even going to the county tax office with the buyer to oversee the transfer of that vehicle title. Even after a title transfer is filed, the seller remains liable for any tolls for 30 days.

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