The last thing one expects while vacationing on St. John is to be slapped with a $1,000 fine for parking in a handicap parking space as they are leaving the island to return home.
On the other hand, the operators of island’s car rental agencies do not enjoy paying motor vehicle tickets issued to customers and trying to collect the fines from a former customer.
This situation was highlighted recently when visitor Don Stone was issued a $1,000 ticket for parking in a handicap space and had to pay the fine to Hospitality Car Rental on his credit card before leaving, so the agency didn’t get stuck with the fine.
Stone, who shared his story in a letter to the editor in the March 5-12 edition of St. John Trade-winds, equated the incident with being robbed at gunpoint.
“It was not much different than someone taking my wallet at gunpoint,” said Stone. “I had no choice, I couldn’t say anything and my money was gone.”
Stone was required to pay Hospitality Car Rental owner Thomas Matthew the $1,000 fine before leaving island.
But, tickets are issued to cars, not drivers, and rental car agencies are often left with fines to pay when registering their cars, Matthew explained.
“When we go to register our cars, we get stuck with the tickets issued to the vehicle,” said Matthew. “If the customer doesn’t tell me they got a ticket, how can I call them six to seven months down the road and ask for payment for the ticket? I am sorry my customer got a ticket for $1,000, but at the same time, I’m happy the officer told me about it.”
Stone, who is in his 60s, left his rental car running in the handicap parking space near the ferry dock while he unloaded he and his wife’s luggage, the visitor explained.
“I thought what I did was reasonable,” said Stone. “The traffic gets very jammed up with people coming in and out, and I realized that here was a spot where I could get out of the traffic and not hold anybody up. The policewoman pulled right behind us immediately and refused to let us move.”
Although the Virgin Islands Police Department officer was professional, she was not forgiving, explained Stone.
“She behaved like a professional police officer in the sense she was doing her duty,” said Stone. “But, she would not hear our story. She wouldn’t listen to any reason.”
St. John Tradewinds attempted to set up an interview with the policewoman involved in this case through VIPD spokesperson Shawna Richards, who did not facilitate the interview.
Stone was given a ticket for $1,000 and both he and the policewoman returned to Hospitality Car Rental, where Matthew attempted to talk the officer into giving his customer a break, he explained.
“I told her my customer was running late for his flight, and asked if she would give him a break,” said Matthew. “I did apologize to her on behalf of the customer. In the presence of the customer, she told me she asked him to move twice before issuing the ticket.”
“What I gathered from the communication with the officer was she didn’t get the response, cooperation or respect she was looking for,” Matthew continued. “I wasn’t at the dock, so I don’t know what really happened.”
Matthew explained to Stone that he must pay the ticket or face arrest, according to the car rental agency owner.
“He was walking off with the ticket in his hand, and I told him he had to pay for it,” said Matthew. “He said, ‘I’m not sure I want to,’ and I told him that if he didn’t, we would get stuck with it. I told him he could get arrested for not paying the ticket.”
In a hurry to catch his flight, Stone paid the fine, which he thought was not appropriate for the infraction, he explained.
“I could understand why you’d want to collect a fine from somebody before leaving island,” said Stone. “In the whole context, having to pay on the spot made it pretty painful, but that part isn’t what bothered me. What bothered me was getting a ticket and the size of the ticket.”
“I think it’s an utterly unreasonable extraction from a tourist for what I don’t think was a real violation of the spirit of the handicap law,” Stone continued. “I feel like I’ve been unfairly relieved of $1,000 with no opportunity to plead my case. When you’re a tourist and you’re leaving, trying to catch a plane, there’s nothing you can do.”
Pay Attention to Signs
The experience did not sour Stone on coming back to St. John — he only hopes VIPD officers are more forgiving when it comes to tourists, and he will pay closer attention to traffic signs, he explained.
“Otherwise, my time on St. John was delightful, and I’d love to come back,” said Stone. “I would watch out for the signs, and I certainly hope the police would act with more discretion. It would have been perfectly okay for the policewoman to come up and ask us to move from the spot.”
Matthew, who pays many tickets given to his customers each year, hopes to see the police implement a system of notifying car rental agencies when one of their vehicles has been ticketed so the agency can collect the fine from its customers, he explained.
“I’m paying tickets that are given to tourists,” said Matthew. “It happens to all car rental agencies. I wish that when officers issue a ticket to a vehicle, they would let the agency know.”
Stone wrote a letter to VIPD Commissioner James McCall regarding his situation and did not receive a response by Thursday afternoon, March 8.