Killed in crash, billed by the state
Parents open letter to dead daughter, find charge for $640.17
Tom Stebbins, left; his wife, Valerie Stebbins, center; and their daughter, Heather Stebbins, still mourning their loss, were stunned by the bill. (Baltimore Sun photo by Gabe Dinsmoor / August 20, 2011)
Stebbins died May 29, when she lost control of her car on Route 32 in Columbia.
It was her grieving mother, Valerie Stebbins, who opened the envelope and learned that the state of Maryland was demanding $640.71 to repair the guardrail her daughter struck.
Sarah's father, Tom Stebbins, described his wife's reaction:
"We stopped at the mailbox on the way out, and all of a sudden she breaks down," Stebbins said. "I was mortified, not so much that they sent the bill — it is what it is — but they sent us a copy of the accident report."
A spokesman for the State Highway Administration, which sent the bill, said the dunning letter was an "inexcusable" error and has been rescinded.
While the agency bills drivers for damage caused to state property in routine crashes, spokesman Charlie Gischlar said, its policy is to waive the charges when the driver is killed. Even in cases where a driver succumbs to injuries months after an accident, he said, the state refunds money already paid.
After The Baltimore Sun contacted the highway administration Friday, acting head Darrell B. Mobley called the Stebbins family to apologize.
The letter from the agency, which was addressed to Sarah Stebbins at her family's home, details how she struck the guardrail while traveling east on Route 32 where it crosses U.S. 29.
A rough sketch in the accident report shows how her 2002 Nissan Xterra spun out after the impact and rolled over before coming to rest in the right-hand lane.
At the top of the form a box is checked off indicating a fatality. Stebbins was the only person in the one-car accident.
"I didn't need to read the accident report. I didn't want to see the accident report. If I wanted to see the accident report, I would have asked for it," said Tom Stebbins, 51.
The bill includes a stern warning.
"Invoices are considered delinquent if not paid within 30 days of the invoice date. Delinquent invoices may be reported to credit reporting bureaus. Invoices referred to the Maryland Central Collection Unit will be charged an additional collection fee of 17 percent on unpaid balances as per Maryland law."
Stamped beneath it are the words: "Please submit to your insurance company."
Tom Stebbins said he eventually sent the bill to his insurance agent.
"When I told him it was addressed to Sarah, he said, 'I've never heard of that.'"
The fact that the bill arrived on state letterhead with the names of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and state Transportation Secretary Beverley Swaim-Staley at the top struck a nerve.
"I'm very upset that Martin O'Malley's name is on the top of it," said Valerie Stebbins, 50. "I just assumed that if his name is on the letterhead, somebody of some importance should be seeing exactly what was going out."