Florida man receives toll violation for license plate he owned 25 years ago

FDOT waives toll fee after discovering license plate pictured was altered

By Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

PORT ORANGE, Fla. - A Port Orange man is frustrated that the Florida Department of Transportation continues to send a bill to his Central Florida home for two toll violations that happened in South Florida last August.

"I wasn't even in the state of Florida at the time," said Thomas McMullen.

McMullen said he was on vacation in Canandaigua, New York, when the toll violation happened. The vehicle captured by the toll cameras is a tractor-trailer, something McMullen says he's never owned.
Not only that, he said he has not owned the license plate captured in the photo for almost 25 years.

"I may have thrown it in the garbage. I may have sold it. I don't know," said McMullen, who is an avid classic car collector.

He said he has bought and sold more than 100 cars in his lifetime and doesn't keep track of all of them or the tags that went with them.

He only collects special license plates, including a Purple Heart plate that hangs on the wall in his garage.

"You know, I'm a soldier, and I fought for our country," McMullen said. "This is a DAV tag of mine for Disabled (American) Veteran."

McMullen said he has also bought old license plates on eBay as part of his classic car obsession. He had no idea that the license plates assigned to him would stay linked to him all these years later.

"I mean, this tag is 25 years old," McMullen said. "Why am I responsible for this?"

McMullen said he kept calling the state to dispute the charges, but they kept sending him a bill. He said he just wants SunPass to stop sending him these bills and to find out what really happened.

"It's giving me a lot of aggravation," said McMullen. "And I don't need any aggravation."

That's why he called News 6 .

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles confirms the license plate expired in 1995 and has not been renewed. The agency confirms unless the plate is reported lost or stolen, it will remain active and continue to be linked to the original owner.

But once we started digging deeper into McMullen's case, we discovered another mystery. The license plate on the 18-wheeler captured on camera may not even be McMullen's old plate after all.

If you zoom in on the picture, you can clearly see that the second zero on the plate is not like the first.

McMullen said the FDOT picked up the anomaly, and within an hour of our visit, the agency called him to say the plate in the picture whad been altered, and that the agency was waiving the toll charges.

News 6 checked McMullen’s account and discovered the charge for $47.25 has been officially erased.

What can you do with your old plates?

According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, license plates are issued to the person, not the vehicle. So, when conducting a private sale of a vehicle, license plates stay with the seller, not the vehicle.

In addition, if you are not going to renew your license plate, you can return it to any tax collector's office, mail it to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, destroy it, or keep it in a safe place where no one can access it.

If you are going to sell a car privately, take off the license plate. You can then mail it back to The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles so the agency can take it out of circulation.

The department offers a sellers checklist to help consumers protect themselves in a private sale: 

            Apply for a demonstration-only temporary tag, if needed;
            Conduct a vehicle identification number inspection, if necessary;
            Record odometer reading on title;
            Complete title transfer in a motor vehicle service center.

            Remove license plate from the sold vehicle;
            Surrender the license plate, if applicable;
            File a Notice of Sale, form HSMV 82050.

Visit the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website to learn more about buying and selling a vehicle.

What happens if your license plate is lost or stolen?

When the FLHSMV a customer completes the form and provides a copy of a police report or agency card containing the case number, the replacement will be issued at no charge.

Questions or discrepancies found on your SunPass bill can be addressed online here.

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