(WJLA) — Carjackers put a gun to 73-year-old Doug Nelson’s head as he arrived home a little after midnight. The Vietnam veteran and grandfather of 11 had just finished his usual late shift at the U.S. Postal Service.
“As I was exiting the vehicle, this guy came up with the pistol and said ‘Give me the car. You know, what's happening. Give me a car,’” said Doug.
Without hesitation, Doug handed over the car, hoping that was all he would lose.
It would be days before police recovered the only vehicle that Doug and Nancy Nelson owned and relied upon.
And when they got it back, it would be returned with something extra.
“Over $2,000 worth of fines. Yes. Over $2,000 worth of fines,” Nancy Nelson said as we sat in their living room looking over a folder of paperwork and a pile of speeding tickets.
The criminals went on a dangerous joyride, often exceeding 70 mph in 30 mph zones, triggering speed cameras half a dozen times.
The Nelsons had no idea until they started receiving tickets.
“It was a notice of infraction and I looked at it and I said, ‘Oh, this is the time when they stole the car,’” said Nancy.
It all seemed simple enough, the Nelsons thought. Notify the District of Columbia that these tickets happened while the carjackers were at the wheel. The District's response?
“It came back saying, ‘You owe,’” said Nancy.
So, Nancy sent the police report, proving the car had been stolen more than an hour before a speed camera snapped the first ticket.
“I sent it back and it got rejected again,” said Nancy.
Surely a face-to-face meeting with the hearings officer would clear things up.
Nancy scheduled an appointment, made arrangements to get to downtown D.C. and waited for her turn to meet with the hearings officer.
“Only for the guy to not even look at the information and say, 'Your tag number is not on the report,’” said Nancy.
So, she went back to the police station.
“He [the police officer] said, ‘I can't put the tag number on your report, but it's in the system,’” said Nancy.
This is not helping me at all. I’m in tears about all of this stuff because we owe over $2,000 for tickets that are not even our fault.
Because of the outstanding tickets, the Nelsons can't get tags, which means they haven't been able to drive their car for six months, complicating everything for these two front-line workers from getting to work, to the grocery store, and to their grandkids.
Nancy and Doug say they expected to be victimized by criminals, but not revictimized by D.C. government.
I called my council member, said Nancy. I called the Mayor's office and they told me 'hold on' and I never heard back from them either.
"We respect the rules, we respect the process, but can somebody that's a human being just look at this and find a way to fix it because it shouldn't have to be this difficult," said Richard Bennett.
Bennett is Doug and Nancy’s son-in-law. He stepped in to try to help. Bennett sent letters to D.C.’s Ticket Adjudication Ombudsman asking for assistance and making a clear case for common sense – only to discover that after all of this, the city closed the case because the Nelsons didn't know to file a document called "Reconsideration or a Motion to Vacate" therefore, he was told, "the adjudication is closed."
Bennett says all he wants to do is find a human being to look at this case, but so far, hasn’t had much luck.
“We're not angry at anybody,” said Bennett. “We're not trying to overthrow the whole bureaucracy. We just ask for somebody to step up and deal with this on a human level and just look at it as a human being. It's obvious when that happens, we got to get outside of checking the boxes."
Bennett says he was told there was one more option, but it didn't make any more sense than the rest of this.
There's a special appeals board to which the Nelsons could make their case but in order to have access to that board, Doug and Nancy would have to pay all the fines upfront. Because this has been going on more than six months, the fines have at least doubled to more than $5,000.
For nearly two weeks, the 7News I-Team tried to get several D.C. officials and agencies to agree to an interview to discuss how this happened to the Nelsons and explain why, in the face of facts, nobody would help them.
While they wouldn't sit down with us, they did take action once we started asking questions. After six months, and up against the deadline of our story, D.C. dismissed all the tickets and penalties against the Nelsons and sent 7News this statement from the DC Department of Motor Vehicles:
DC DMV had been communicating with Mr. Nelson since he began the adjudication process related to the six citations issued on November 2, 2020. The initial police incident submitted as part of that process was incomplete and failed to establish that the vehicle was stolen when the citations were issued. Subsequently, DC DMV received a more complete incident report with additional details related to the carjacking incident involving Mr. Nelson’s vehicle. As a result, DC DMV Adjudication Services has dismissed the six tickets, as well as the related fines and penalties.
When 7News shared the above information with the Nelsons, they told us that not only had the District not alerted them that the tickets had been dismissed this week, but had not "been communicating" with them at all through the process. They said for six months the communication had been a series of one-way interactions where they presented the facts and the District's only response was to tell them to pay all of the tickets and then it would decide whether the payment was justified.
As of the publication of this story, the Nelson's still have not been notified by the District that the tickets have been dismissed.
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