Beaufort News

Long arm of the law has a long memory, too: Man asked to pay up 14 years later

Wendell Pope of Beaufort had nearly forgotten about the speeding ticket he received 14 years ago on U.S. 17 in northern Beaufort County.

A letter from the Beaufort County Magistrate's Office last month jogged his memory.

Pope, 46, said he was en route to Twickenham Plantation near Yemassee in 1996 for a hunting trip with his son when he was pulled over by a S.C. Highway Patrol trooper. He was clocked going 70 mph in a 55 mph zone and later given a reduced fine of $30 by former Beaufort County Magistrate Judge George Brown, Pope said.He said he paid the fine in cash and did not think about the citation again until Sept. 14, when he received a non-descript, typed letter from the Beaufort County Magistrate's Office. It stated that he was to pay the $30 fine or have that amount, plus a $25 administrative fee, deducted from his next state income tax return."There was no official letterhead, no name at the bottom of the letter and an illegible signature," Pope said. "At first, I thought it was a scam. I thought someone had hacked into the county's system and was trying to get money from people. It looked like a letter that came from someone sitting in a bedroom in California."

It did not.

Pope called the office, and a staff member told him the letter was real. He had 30 days to pay the fine or submit a written protest to the Magistrate's Office.

Beaufort County Administrator Gary Kubic said the letter likely was sent as part of a countywide push that began late last year to enforce old bench warrants and collect delinquent traffic fines.

"We've got a lot of dangling participles," Kubic said. "People who are angry that they owe money for past violations are disrespecting those ... who paid their fines and abided by the law no matter how much time has gone by. I just don't think time is enough of an excuse."

There is no statue of limitations for criminal offenses in South Carolina.

It's not clear how many similar letters have been mailed or how much money has been recouped as a result. Attempts Wednesday to reach Beaufort County Chief Magistrate Darlene Smith for comment were unsuccessful.Pope has until today to decide whether to pay or dispute the fine. He said Wednesday he still was undecided because he paid the ticket in cash and has no way to refute the county's claim.

"This is just really unprofessional," Pope said. "If you're going to do something like this, you have to do it by certified mail. I could see someone getting this in the mail, and throwing it in the trash because they think it's junk mail. My wife says it's only $30 but that's not the point."