HENRICO, Va. (WRIC) – The Virginia Department of Transportation charged a female Henrico $5,175 for an accident she says was not her fault. The department disputes the woman’s claim, saying the road was not marked as icy at the time of the crash.
Celia Brown told 8News that her Subaru was destroyed after the incident on I-85 in Petersburg during the night of the infamous Jan. 3 ice storm.
State officials came under intense scrutiny of road preparation and how drivers were alerted to unsafe conditions along the Interstate 95 corridor, which is near the where Brown said she lost control after hitting a patch of ice.
StormTracker8 predicted two to four inches of snow until 4 p.m. in the Petersburg area on January 3 – DMV records show the crash involving Brown happened around 4:08 p.m.
“I don’t pay a penny because I had an accident that was billed by the poor way they maintained their highway after a storm,” she told 8News after the discovery in his mailbox this week from VDOT.
Brown, who was driving, her cousin and her dog Wilson escaped injury in the crash where she said a young mother driving a sedan also lost control right after her, along with at least two other cars.
“Oh my God, we are alive. You know, we’re fine. We haven’t gone back, we’re fine,” Brown told 8News on Thursday.
Nearly seven months later, Brown received an itemized bill listing damage to a jersey wall that a landscaping company had apparently contracted for repairs and for “Richmond Traffic Control.”
Sara Owens, spokesperson for VDOT, told 8News, “In the police report we received for the January 3 crash on I-85 North in Petersburg, the police officer noted ‘no conditions unfavourable” and that the road was “wet”. There was an option to check “freezing” on the report, which was not checked.
Brown is adamant she hit ice and police arrived after she melted.
8News requested a copy of the police report from a Virginia State Police spokesperson and received no response.
Owens said: “It is VDOT’s procedure to charge the vehicle owner who is liable for damages.” Meanwhile, Brown points to an existing dangerous road.
8News legal analyst Russ Stone thinks Brown may object to the state’s demand for payment, saying “sometimes accidents happen and they’re not anyone’s fault,” and has added that drivers are “expected to drive in accordance with road conditions, and that would include whether it’s wet or icy.”
Brown said she was driving “absolutely” slower than the posted speed limit. “Everyone was,” she said.
Stone said, “unless the state had a witness to contradict one way or another, you were going to have to take what she said.”
Brown said she reported the accident to her insurance company 30 minutes after the accident and planned to write to them about the surprise bill, but thinks the insurance company shouldn’t have to pay.
It is unclear how many other people may have been charged for property damage on the same evening when the roads were covered in ice and snow.