1/30/2008New Hampshire: Innocent Man Jailed Over 75 Cent Toll
Innocent motorists jailed and harassed over false toll cheating accusations spur legislative change in New Hampshire.
Chichester, New Hampshire police arrested an innocent school teacher on January 20 claiming that he had not paid a 75 cent toll. Eric Kingkopf, 57, uses an E-ZPass transponder to navigate the state's toll roads. Last year, the device fell onto the floor of his car and failed to record a single 75 cent transaction. When Kingkopf received a notice about it in the mail, he paid the outstanding charge with his credit card and considered the matter settled. Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), the company that runs the toll system, did not record the payment.
This put Kingkopf on a list of criminals. As he explained to WMUR television, a police officer ordered him out of the car, put him in handcuffs and took him to be booked for driving on a suspended license. Police also impounded Kingkopf's car.
Chichester's police chief told WMUR that the arresting officer "did everything he was supposed to do." Kingkopf was released at 3am and told to find his own way back home, thirty miles away. State Department of Transportation officials admit that Kingkopf was among about a dozen people falsely accused of skipping tolls. The agency paid Kingkopf $190 to cover the cab ride and impound fees, but offered nothing more than an apology to make up for the false arrest.
Real estate agent Sheila Smith also had her license suspended even though she had done nothing wrong. When she noticed that that her license plate was incorrectly listed on her EZ-Pass documentation last year, she immediately notified EZ-Pass. They ignored her, wrongly listed her as a toll cheat and suspended her license -- leaving Smith without transportation.
After hearing these stories, state lawmakers swiftly moved yesterday to begin consideration of HB 1604, a measure that had been introduced on January 2 to modify toll road penalties. Although the legislation still presumes motorists guilty of crimes with no proof that any wrong has been done, a fine of up to $1000 would only be imposed after a third accusation of cheating and a vehicle registration suspension. The license suspension provision would be dropped.