Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Doug Clark: WDOT reverses course on toll, fine

Shirley and Dennis Wendlandt can put a case of a mistaken license plate behind them. The Washington state Department of Transportation has dismissed its claim against the couple. (FILE)
Shirley and Dennis Wendlandt can put a case of a mistaken license plate behind them. The Washington state Department of Transportation has dismissed its claim against the couple. (FILE)

It’s a happy ending for Dennis and Shirley Wendlandt.

The DOT will NOT be going after this humble Spokane couple for $53.10 in unpaid fines and a toll fee dating back to Nov. 5.

By DOT, I mean the Washington state Department of Transportation, of course.

But what a switcheroo.

For months, the mammoth bureaucracy’s point of view was that the Wendlandt case was open and shut up and pay us.

After all, a cargo trailer bearing a license plate registered to Dennis Wendlandt (5811-VL) was photographed going across the 520 bridge near Seattle.

Dennis tried to explain that his trailer had been moored for years outside his pink cinderblock home in the West Central neighborhood.

All that got him was a notice that his appeal had been denied and fines that were rising faster than soybean futures.

Ah, but that was then.

The DOT is now more agreeable than a Vegas call girl.

“After researching (the Wendlandts’) case, we are dismissing their toll and civil penalty,” wrote Craig Stone, assistant secretary of the transportation department’s toll division.

And what, pray tell, could be the source of this turnaround?

All right. I’ll take a pinch of the credit.

I was only too happy to go to bat for the Wendlandts the moment I laid eyes on the near-perfect condition of the license plate on their Wells Cargo trailer.

The one photographed on the bridge was a dirty, crumpled disgrace to convict plate makers everywhere. It even looked like it was attached in an entirely different spot than where the Wendlandts’ plate was affixed.

But all I did was sound the alarm.

Credit state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, for doing the heavy lifting. He sent an email to DOT officials, all but demanding they stop hosing the wee folks who pay their wages.

The Wendlandts, he wrote, “are constituents of mine. … I have spoken with Mr. Wendlandt and it is by all accounts of common sense impossible that this was them.

“I am very troubled by the dismissiveness of these citizens and taxpayers when they appealed the fine.

“These are seniors and they are on a fixed income …”

I especially enjoyed this part of Riccelli’s message:

“This is already a very poor PR issue for the Department. Quick action can turn that around and as a member of the House Transportation Committee I would like to work with you on that.”

You go, Marcus!

“That’s the fun part of my job,” Riccelli said when I called to say how impressed I was by the way he stepped in.

The legislator told me he had read my column and “it didn’t pass the smell test.”

I’ve heard that before, of course, but in this case I knew Riccelli was talking about the way the Wendlandts had been treated.

Situations like this, he added, “drive taxpayers nuts.”

He’s right about that.

This was never about just money. Dennis felt that faceless bureaucrats were calling him a liar, and that didn’t sit right.

The DOT’s so-called “Good To Go” toll program was, in this case, Good For Nada.

The photograph I snapped of the Wendlandts’ license plate and sent to Riccelli was key to getting them off the hook.

Stone, in his response to Riccelli, said the photo revealed “a new license plate in a very different condition than the license plate on the civil penalty, even though the numbers matched.

“By comparing the photos we were able to identify potential causes, including possibly stolen or altered plates. We researched every aspect down to the registration month of the tabs on the plates.

“Weighing all factors, we believe that the plate from our camera on SR 520 belongs to another registered owner,” Stone’s email said.

Because of the “substantial damage” to the bridge plate, Stone speculated that the camera image “could have resulted in a ‘3’ looking like an ‘8’.”

I’m sure they’ll eventually find the culprit.

Dennis, however, is done waiting. Friday found him at a Department of Licensing outlet where he got a brand-new plate for his maligned trailer.

“Now we’re good to go,” quipped Shirley with a laugh. “And it gives me a great deal of peace of mind knowing that (old) plate won’t be in circulation anymore.”

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at dougc@spokesman.com.