Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
Celina resident loses license due to identity confusion
By Shelley Grieshop
Tom Jones of Celina was just a kid in elementary school when he first got teased about his very common name.
He learned quickly about the singer Tom Jones and assumed there were others with the same name. What he didn't know then is how another Tom Jones would completely disrupt his life.
Last week - two days after his 33rd birthday - Jones tried to renew his driver's license at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Celina. The clerk at the counter informed him the state of New York had put a "block" on his license so she couldn't complete the renewal. She told him she didn't know why; it's just want the computer said.
"She asked if I had been to New York and I said no. I've never been to New York in my life," Jones said.
Jones, who was raised in Bradford and moved to Celina more than three years ago, was confused and frustrated. He'd only been cited once for a speeding ticket he received in Ohio in 2007, he said.
The woman at the BMV gave him a phone number for the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in New York and said she could do little else for him until officials in that state cleared his record.
"I came home and immediately tried to call the New York office but found out they were closed in the afternoon," he said.
He called the next day but made little headway. The clerk informed him there was a Tom Jones living somewhere in Virginia who apparently has four outstanding traffic tickets from the state of New York.
Although the clerk could release only bits of information due to privacy regulations, she did say the earliest ticket on his record was from 1994. Jones of Celina was 17 at the time and a senior in high school, he said.
He told the clerk he was willing to fax or mail copies of his birth certificate, driver's license, Social Security data - anything they needed - but her only answer was for him to fill out and return an "application to re-open a default conviction."
"She said it would probably take six weeks or more to resolve the matter," he said.
The paperwork then will be reviewed by a judge in New York, she told Jones.
The clerk told him the Tom Jones who had netted the traffic tickets likely showed police only minimal identification when he was issued the citations. She said someone, somewhere, somehow may have input the traffic violations against his name on the National Driver Register - a database of licensed motorists, which is used by each state.
The New York DMV clerk refused to verify the middle initial or any other identifying information from the "other" Tom Jones. Jones of Celina believes Tom Jones of Virginia likely shares his birthday.
Jones also contacted the BMV in Columbus for help but was told they, too, could do nothing until New York state removes the block on his license. He recently hired local lawyer Jim Tesno to help clear his name.
Besides the headache and expense, Jones is upset that his right to drive has been temporarily taken away. He can't even take a short trip to the grocery store until his license is legally renewed. If the problem persists longer than six months, he will be forced to retake the written and driving tests to get his license back, he was told.
Fortunately, Jones and his wife both work at Honda in Anna, so she is able to drive the couple back and forth to work each day.
"But when you can't drive, you feel guilty right off the bat like you did something wrong," he said. "This isn't my fault."
A spokeswoman at the New York DMV told The Daily Standard a hearing to address the unpaid traffic citations probably was held in New York, perhaps in the last year or so. When Tom Jones of Virginia did not show up, the judge likely ordered him "guilty by default." That order would have prompted the license block, unfortunately on the wrong "Tom Jones," she told the paper.
"I understand it's a hardship, it's not fair," said the woman, who would only give her first name of "Nikki."
Nikki suggested Jones of Celina contact the appeals court in Albany, N.Y., or the department's legal bureau, and gave phone numbers for both. The newspaper made numerous attempts throughout the day to contact someone at those numbers, but only got automated recordings.
Debra Roush of the New York State Consumer Protection Board offered to help clear the matter and is currently investigating the issue at the request of the newspaper.
Meanwhile, Jones can do little but wait for the legal process to work.
"It's scary that something like this can happen," he said. "If it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone."