A Fairfax County, Virginia, woman has been left to pick up the tab after someone racked up more than $1,000 on her E-ZPass when her transponder was stolen following a severe car accident.
After the head-on crash back in February, Mindy Gaertner feels lucky to be alive — let alone walking.
"The last thing I knew, there were headlights right in front of me," Gaertner said. "And the worst sound I ever heard in my life."
Gaertner was left in critical condition following the wreck, and her car was totaled.
Since then, she's focused on one thing: recovering. She doesn't really remember the first month after the crash. "I was heavily, heavily medicated and had a lot of injuries from head to toe," Gaertner said.
Over the past several months, she's been in and out of intensive rehab. But a few weeks ago, while going through her bills, she found a charge on her American Express credit card statement that didn't quite make sense.
Gaertner found out that her E-ZPass transponder, linked to her credit card, had paid for tolls up and down the East Coast, from Virginia to Massachusetts. The total over the course of several months: $1,003.78.
"It never occurred to me that the E-ZPass would've even survived the accident, much less [that] anyone was using it," she said.
But someone was using it — a lot.
"This person was driving all over," Gaertner said. She called E-ZPass, and the company canceled the transponder. But a few more charges came through. She said that "even though E-ZPass stopped it, these people were still driving around and added up another $108 after I stopped it."
Mindy then called the tow truck company, Henry's Wrecker Service.
"I said, 'Look, this is what happened, I need to know when the car was taken away and who took it.' And the response was, 'Have a happy Henry's day,' and I was hung up on."
Henry's told News4 their investigation showed the charges started after the car was moved out of their lot to a salvage yard that is unrelated to their company.
"So it is clear that while at our lot the EZpass was not used. It was used in transit from our lot to the salvage lot in Waldorf Md. And since the EZpass unit had to still be in the car when the tow truck driver used the toll road it was charged at that time," said Ted Nevins, Chief Marketing Officer for Henry's Wrecker Service, in an email to News4.
Gaertner then contacted Fairfax County Police, but they said it's out of their jurisdiction.
"We would say, treat those E-ZPasses like a credit card," said Lucy Caldwell of Fairfax County police. "Call the E-ZPass company and cancel it immediately."
Gaertner thinks the condition of her car made it easier for a thief to target.
"When you look at the picture of the car, it's easy to understand that that was a great target," she said. "That whoever was in that car was not going to be in a situation to be thinking about the E-ZPass."
With a hospital bed in her living room, it's clear that Gaertner's rehab has been intense. And now in addition to medical bills, she's on the hook for someone else's joyrides.
"It's not ending. It's constant," she said. "I mean, I didn't even know you could rack up charges like that."