When Tammy Duryea checked her mail at her Bluffton home last Saturday, she found a letter asking that a speeding ticket older than her nearly 19-year-old marriage be paid to the Hilton Head Magistrate Court.
“I’m planning to contest this,” Duryea said on Friday. “It’s only $55, but it’s just the principle of the thing. First of all, I don’t think I would ever have a ticket and not have paid for it. I’m an accountant by trade. I’m not delinquent with my bills. And do you know how many times I’ve renewed my driver’s license? They would have said I owed this or had a warrant out.”
The ticket was written on Jan. 8, 1993, back when Tammy Duryea was Tammy Clary because she had not yet married.
Duryea said the letter, signed by a setoff debt collector working with the court, is the first notice she’s received of the ticket. And she doesn’t remember being pulled over 24 years ago.
“I will tell you that, over the years, I’ve had a heavy foot and have had speeding tickets before, but I can assure you they were paid,” she said.
When she called the court to inquire about the ticket, Duryea was told that it was written after she allegedly was clocked going 61 mph in a 45 mph zone.
According to Beaufort County Court records, the case was disposed and Duryea was found guilty by bench trial.
The letter informed Duryea that she owes the court the $55 plus accruing interest. The record of the case on the court’s website also says she has an outstanding fine in the same amount.
“You are hereby notified of Hilton Head Magistrate’s intention to submit or resubmit this debt to the South Carolina Department of Revenue to set off against your individual income tax refunds until the debt is paid in full, as authorized under the Setoff Debt Collection Act,” the letter reads.
According to Stephanie Garst, court administrator for the Beaufort County Magistrate Court, Duryea isn’t alone.
“It’s not a scam,” Garst said. “There’s no statute of limitations on how far back (the ticket) goes through the Setoff Debt Collection Act. Any case that shows a balance due gets a letter sent out.”
The letters are sent out by the court annually in July to give residents time to contest any tickets within 30 days of receiving the letter. The time also allows the court time to investigate each contested case before payment data is submitted for the next tax filing season in November to the S.C. Department of Revenue, Garst said.
When asked why Duryea had not received a letter before and how she’d avoided having her license suspended for nonpayment, Garst said she was unsure how Duryea could have not been notified. Garst said the court has been sending the letters to addresses it has on file for each case since 2009 and that a period of transition for the court in the early 1990s may be to blame.
“In my experience researching cases, I have not found (ones) where licenses were suspended for nonpayment in cases around 1992 and 1993,” Garst said.
During that time, the court was in the process of converting its filing system from written forms to computer-organized ones, Garst said.
“When we get a protest letter, it is given to a setoff debt coordinator, and the first thing that we do is pull up the case in our system,” Garst said. “We look at any notes, the disposition and the dates. These records are so old that we want to make sure our records are correct or up to date. Then we go into our paper archives and we try to find the ticket or the docket from court to show what happened in court. Maybe the payment didn’t get entered into a computer. ... If we have any kind of inkling that the payment has been received, we write that off.”
Garst said traffic ticket payments received by the court are updated regularly. The court encourages anyone who does not believe they owe money to contest the ticket so an investigation can verify information surrounding each case.
“If it’s one number off, or it’s a junior instead of senior, we’ve seen that happen, so we want to investigate any protest letter,” she said. “We get it. It’s 24 years later and that’s a difficult thing to remember, and people don’t keep receipts that long. So we encourage people that, if they get these, to protest our letter so we can settle this without a hearing by checking our records.”
According to the letter Duryea received, anyone who chooses to contest a ticket must file a written protest within 30 days with their name, address, Social Security number, the debt in dispute and a detailed statement of all the reasons the resident disagrees with the debt amount or that any debt is owed.
Those protest letters may be mailed to the magistrate court at 4819 Bluffton Parkway, P.O. Box 840, Bluffton, SC 29910.