Wrong Person hounded to DEATH over unpaid Highway Toll Bill


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By MARK BONOKOSKI
Toronto Sun
Travel back to the spring of last year, to a front-page headline here that told of a Road to Ruin, and it will be a reminder of an Oakville man named John Dowling who took his own life for a long list of reasons — one of the many being the long and persistent harassment he endured when the 407 ETR (Highway 407 Toll System), was on the hunt for unpaid highway tolls.

As his son, Patrick Dowling, said at the time, “They had simply exhausted his patience. The constant, undeserved harassment of three to four phone calls a day was a form of torture that definitely added an element to (my father’s) state of mind when he decided he could live no more.

“I know this because of the suicide note he left behind.”

The 407 ETR had been chasing down the wrong John Dowling, and later apologized to his family after it was exposed here just how wrong it had been in its dogged pursuit of the alleged scofflaw who, as it turned out, had the same first and last name, but a different middle initial.

APOLOGY TOO LATE

It was a letter of apology, though, that John E. Dowling himself never got to read, having already been dead for over a year when the 407 ETR finally admitted its mistake.

All of which brings us to this coming Wednesday, and what was supposed to be the appearance in the Richmond Hill small claims court of 36-year-old John K. Dowling, the man the 407 ETR claims owes $5,832.47 in unpaid tolls.

The search for the right John Dowling, found in Burlington, would appear to be over. But not the story.

In fact, judging from what has been learned, as well as what is being claimed, John K. Dowling may be as much a victim of the 407 ETR’s ineptitude as the late John E. Dowling.

At least in this particular case — a case that was suddenly “settled” shortly after John K. Dowling learned that his court case would be covered by this newspaper, and his photograph likely taken as he entered court.

This has been confirmed by a source familiar with the case.

Dowling himself, in two conversations with the Sun, as well as through a family friend, made it clear that the last thing he wanted was his picture in this newspaper, citing the possible ill-effects it might have on his unnamed business.

Nonetheless, before John K. Dowling went to ground, not answering his phone and not returning any messages, he insisted he never — ever — received a bill or a harassing phone call from 407 ETR’s collection agency to pay up “old historic charges” dating back almost eight years.

In fact, he insisted the first time he knew he was in the 407 ETR’s bad books was back in April — coincidentally two days before the second anniversary of John E. Dowling’s suicide death at the age of 63 — when he was served with a summons demanding his appearance in court.

And this makes sense.

DRIVEN UP THE WALL

If the 407 ETR thought John E. Dowling was the right man, then it is no doubt reasonable to conclude that John K. Dowling would have not made it onto their collection agency’s radar screen until the error in their chase was exposed, simply because it was John E. Dowling, not John K. Dowling, who was being driven up the wall for a number of years by what quickly became three to four harassing phone calls a day, plus bills in the mail, for travelling a privately owned toll road he had never been on.

The 407 ETR file on the correct John Dowling — “aka John Kyle Dowling,” according to court documents obtained by the Sunday Sun — is as thick as two Toronto phone books.

And in that stack of documents, among others, is a $4 toll charge that, in five years of being in default, has seen interest and fees turn that $4 into a demand for $119.59.

26.82% INTEREST

According to an agent with the 407 ETR’s litigation and enforcement department, interest rates are set at 26.82% per annum, lending credence to John K. Dowling’s argument that this unpaid bill — minus years of interest, the monthly fee for a long-gone transponder, and all the computer-generated administrative fees — would be less than $1,000, and therefore a far cry from the almost $6,000 being demanded.

On June 20 of this year, John K. Dowling appeared “in person” at the Richmond Hill small claims court and, in a pre-trial motion, offered to pay what he considered “more than a fair share” of what was owed — admitting that the 407 accounts at issue “correspond” to vehicle licences registered to him at the time, but reiterating that the 407 ETR had never notified him of this prior to taking him to court.

That offer of $3,000 to be paid at the rate of $100 a month was turned down. The 407’s counter-offer was $4,300, to be paid upfront and in total. Hence, see you in court.

Since then, however, the 407 ETR printout of John K. Dowling’s “consolidated summary,” the previously mentioned $5,832.47 has already grown to $6,063.33.

Most mind-boggling, however, is the fact that almost $4,000 of that amount — $3,910.86 to be precise — is interest.

Repeated calls to Anne Higgins, listed on documents as the 407 ETR agent in court, were not returned. Neither were calls to the toll road’s corporate spokesman, Dale Albers.

And then, after days without any response, the following e-mail from Dale Albers arrived on Friday.

“Really sorry that I was unable to return your calls,” he wrote. “However, so you don’t waste your time going to court, I want to tell you that we reached a settlement with John (Dowling).

“Below is 407 ETR’s response that you may use and attribute to me — if you’re going to write about it:

“We’re satisfied that we have reached a settlement.

“We will not tolerate acts of theft and will pursue anyone engaged in such activity.”

“Unfortunately,” wrote Albers, “I’m unable to provide you with more comments or information.”

When Albers was finally reached late Friday, he said his e-mail “stands as our only comment” — refusing, too, to elaborate on the use of the word “theft” as it applied to this case, or to provide a dollar figure regarding the settlement.

However, despite the 11th-hour deal, and despite the fact John K. Dowling has moved “several times” over the last six years, none of it negates the reality that the 407 ETR was pursuing the wrong John Dowling while all those interest and administration fees were adding up and compounding.

At the very least, it was incompetent tracking.

While investigating the 407 ETR’s harassment of the wrong John Dowling, for example, I was one door-knock away from the real John Dowling being sought — information which the 407 ETR would have had simply by buying a newspaper.

HIRED PI FIRM

Instead, according to court documents, it hired a private investigation firm to track down John K. Dowling’s latest address in a Burlington subdivision, finding him through an active hydro account and an updated driver’s licence.

His phone, as the Sun also learned, is listed under his wife’s surname.

To make it even more confusing, however, there is this.

When the toll-road charges against John K. Dowling were being rung up, it has been learned that they came when Dowling was sharing his business with his since-retired father, and company vehicles in his name were being shared.

His father’s name?

As might well be expected, it’s John Dowling.

Source: http://www.moncton.net/canadian-discussions/Law-Order-Crime/Wrong-Person-hounded-to-DEATH-over-unpaid-Highway-Toll-Bill–6496.htm

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