Monday, August 17th, 2009
License returned after BMV nightmare
By Shelley Grieshop
Tom Jones can finally turn the key on his shiny, red Honda Civic and drive wherever he pleases, legally.
It's a privilege the 33-year-old Celina man was denied for seven weeks - ever since the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) refused to renew his driver's license due to a 15-year-old identification error made in New York.
On Wednesday, he was given a "one-day window of opportunity to renew his license before officials permanently - they say - fixed the problem a few days later.
"The matter's been taken care of," Pete Bucci of the Department of Motor Vehicles in New York told The Daily Standard. "A letter from our judge was sent to Mr. Jones and the Ohio BMV to clear up everything."
Officials blame the mix-up on Jones' common name and the unfortunate coincidence that another "Tom Jones" shares his date of birth. Jones of Celina believes the nightmare could have been avoided altogether if officials had been more diligent.
The problem began when mystery man Tom Jones was stopped by police in the Bronx at 3:28 a.m. July 21, 1994. He was driving a red Nissan sedan and apparently provided no identification to the New York cop. He claimed he resided in the Virginia town of Charlottesville (spelled Charletville on the ticket).
Jones of Virginia was cited for driving without a license, without insurance and without a seat belt, but never paid his tickets or appeared in court. Sometime in the last four years, New York DMV officials mistakenly placed a "block" on the driver's license of Tom Jones of Celina, assuming that was the same Tom Jones.
The information was passed along to the national DMV database and retrieved by the Ohio BMV when Jones of Celina tried to renew his license July 2.
"There were several problems with this from the beginning," says Jones. "I've never been in New York in my whole life, I would never drive in the Bronx at 3:30 in the morning and I have never owned or even driven a red Nissan."
To resolve the problem, Jones had to fax the New York DMV a copy of his birth certificate, Social Security card, driver's license and three default conviction forms for the three traffic citations he never received. He thought for a while he'd have to send them his first born, he now jokes.
He solicited help from local attorney Jim Tesno, who wrote a letter to the attorney for the Ohio BMV and contacted New York officials. At one point in the letter, Tesno threatened a lawsuit on behalf of his client.
Jones, his wife and two children had to cancel a trip to the Smoky Mountains in July because his wife wasn't comfortable driving on the interstate. Fortunately, he and his wife work the same shift at Honda in Anna, so he's relied on her to do the driving.
"It's been a real headache," he adds.
At the request of Tesno, he contacted an advocate at the Times Union in New York, who wrote an online blog about the incident in an Aug. 8 column. Bucci admitted the publicity from The Daily Standard and Albany newspapers helped expedite the case.
Jones says he's still frustrated and worries what trouble the "other" Tom Jones might cause in the future to jeopardize his clean record. For now, he's thankful for his God-given right to drive, he says.
"It feels good," he says. "It's made me feel like I was 16 again."
Since the first story was published locally, several readers responded to tell of similar incidents. Michael Davis of Minster wrote to say his license had been blocked in Michigan and Florida. The northern state fixed the error in 15 minutes but "Florida was a whole other story," he says. He eventually got the block lifted but said the same thing happened to his 16-year-old son in February.
"My whole point is this: Ohio should not block anyone's license for another state unless the state supplies the Social Security number," he writes, adding the issue should be battled by our state representatives in Congress.
Joe Brinkman, also of Minster, said a block was put on his license in Alabama but the incident was resolved in two days.
Last summer, Jon Kessler of Celina was sent a speeding ticket from an automatic traffic camera in East Cleveland. He happened to be in Florida at the time. Eventually, a closer look of the image showed the car was not his and the license plate was not even from the Buckeye state.
"When I called East Cleveland they were honest, admitted their mistake and canceled the ticket," Kessler says.
He told a story of another Ohio driver who received a bogus ticket from New York. When told she had to "pay the bill or see the judge," she flew to the Big Apple and met with the judge.
"He threw out the ticket and made New York pay her expenses," Kessler says.
Advice from victims: Beware, this can happen to anyone.