Man sells car, gets billed for 520 tolls 18 years later

ANACORTES, Wash. -- With the world as his canvas, Anacortes artist Keith Sorenson sees beauty all around him, although he never would've never painted the picture that sits on the table of his Skagit County studio.

"[If it] happens once or twice, it's just an irritation," he said, pointing at a small pile of bills and notes, "but if it goes on for the rest of my life it's going to be more than just an irritation, and that's the story."

The story begins when Sorenson moved to the area nearly two decades ago. He and his wife sold their 1987 Subaru Legacy to a local car dealership.

Normally, that would be the end of the story; that is, until Sorenson got a bill in the mail in January tied to his old car.

The total? About $4.00 for a trip across the 520 bridge - nearly 80 miles from his house.

"I did not recognize the license plate, so I just called [WSDOT] up and said, 'this is not me. I haven't been there.' They talked to me for a while and said, 'well, your name's on the license plate,' " he said.

It turns out Sorenson's name is still tied to the license plate, with Sorenson the last registered owner in Washington state - despite the fact that the car sold 18 years ago, said Brad Benson, spokesman for the state Department of Licensing.

So when cameras captured the license plate a second and then a third time heading across the 520 bridge, Sorenson continued to get bills in the mail.

"I got another one and this time I was a little more perturbed," Sorenson said, adding that he wasn't sure if someone had fabricated his old plates or was still driving around in his car with the old ones on it. "I called the highway patrol. They wouldn't do anything. I called Seattle police. They wouldn't do anything. I called the local sheriff. They wouldn't do anything. They were just not interested. They were nice to me; they just weren't interested."

The KOMO 4 Problem Solvers took interest in Sorsenson's case, and called both the state departments of licensing and transportation. WSDOT was able to track down photos of the car in question going across the bridge, and determined it has Minnesota plates, not Washington ones.

"His license plate was 'OCR'd,' which means the system looked at it and thought it was a Washington plate," said Lucinda Broussard, operations manager for WSDOT, referring to the state's OCR, or optical character recognition system. "It wasn't his car. The license plate was a Minnesota plate versus a Washington plate, but the configuration was exactly the same - the letters and numbers."

"Our system is actually 99.9% accurate," she added.

WSDOT has agreed to forgive the tolls and says it has fixed the problem. Still, Sorenson wonders how many other people might be out there facing the same situation.

"I think anybody would be frustrated by it," he said.