Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Have Unpaid Tolls? Pa. Turnpike Is Coming after You

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Have Unpaid Tolls? Pa. Turnpike Is Coming after You

Article excerpt

Michael Fabacher of Honey Brook, Pa., Chester County, is finding out the hard way what can happen when motorists don't pay tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike: He's facing third-degree felony charges that carry a potential of seven years in jail and a fine of $15,000.

Mr. Fabacher is among about 20 motorists across the state to face the first-ever round of criminal charges for unpaid turnpike tolls. As part of a stepped-up enforcement program, the turnpike - which has more than $17 million in unpaid tolls - also has had the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for the first time suspend the vehicle registrations of 83 motorists with unpaid tolls of more than $500 who commit new violations.

"If you believed you could do this over and over and nobody would pay any attention . that has changed," said Craig Shuey, the turnpike's chief operating officer.

Mr. Fabacher runs East Wind Transport, a trucking company with one driver other than himself. He claims he didn't know his other driver was not paying turnpike tolls that reached $29,162 because the driver's girlfriend kept the books for the company and never told him about repeated notices from the turnpike about unpaid tolls.

Once he found out, Mr. Fabacher said, he fired the driver and bookkeeper and made arrangements for monthly payments.

In February, he was a little short on cash and said he was unsuccessful in finding the right person at the turnpike to ask for a delay. Then a constable called to tell him a warrant had been issued and he was required to be at the district judge's office the next morning to answer criminal charges.

"I am guilty as charged," Mr. Fabacher said in an interview Friday. "But the biggest thing was never being able to find the right person at the turnpike to talk to about coming up a little short that month. It was a communication problem and now I'm dealing with it."

Mr. Shuey and Ray Morrow, the turnpike's chief compliance officer, said the agency is going after the worst offenders first - those with more than $2,000 in unpaid tolls and fees - but is working its way down the list to those with smaller amounts. They urged motorists who have received numerous notices about unpaid tolls to respond before their name is next on the enforcement list.

When drivers go through the E-ZPass lane on the turnpike, they are supposed to have a transponder linked to a credit card for payment. But some drivers blow through the E-ZPass lane without a transponder, either by mistake or figuring they can avoid paying the toll.

But each E-ZPass lane also has a camera that takes a photo of the vehicle's license plate and the agency sends bills to those who haven't paid.

Enforcement is a complicated process that involves numerous notices before the turnpike can take action. For example, those motorists who have had their vehicle registrations revoked had received 23,967 notices that they owed unpaid tolls worth $528,327 and another $958,674 in administrative fees. …

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