Andrew Dys

Rock Hill soldier in Afghanistan charged $50 late fee for expired vehicle tag

Sgt. First Class Randy Jowers can’t go to the state Department of Motor Vehicles to pay the registration renewal on his 19-year-old car.

There is no DMV office in the mountains of Afghanistan, where Jowers, 53, has spent the better part of the last year with his deployed Rock Hill Army National Guard unit.

Jowers is busy keeping vehicles operational in a war zone, where the enemy lays bombs in the road and broken trucks and Humvees can mean death.

While there, though, a bill arrived in Rock Hill – a late fee of $50 for an expired license plate.

“Last time when I returned home, all that I had to do was take a copy of my orders to the DMV and they did not charge me late fees,” Jowers wrote in an email from Afghanistan.

Still, that 50 bucks has irritated not just Jowers – who has to worry about bombs and bullets all day every day – but his two grown sons and a friend who tried to get the fee waived.

“I find it a little ridiculous that they charged a late fee,” said Riley Jowers, Randy Jowers’ older son. “I understand he should have taken care of this before he left almost a year ago, but the last thing on anybody’s mind is paying car taxes due months later.

“He was worried about staying alive. We still care about that a lot more than any late fee.”

Younger son Ryan said his father, after almost three decades of service and two deployments to Afghanistan, deserves better.

“We were more worried about his safety,” Ryan Jowers said. “The last thing any of us was worried about is whether he can get the car taxes paid on time.”

Karen and Charlie Losh of Rock Hill are good friends who collect Jowers’ mail, cut his grass, crank vehicles to make sure everything works fine, and make sure his auto-pay bills such as gas and electricity and more are current.

Charlie Losh, a Navy retiree who served in Desert Storm and the first Iraq conflict, said he tried to get the late fee waived this week at the Newport branch of the DMV because his friend was in Afghanistan, but was told no.

“It just doesn’t seem right that he is over there fighting for his country and gets charged a late fee,” Losh said. “Some things in this world just ain’t right – and this is one of them.”

There is no question the tag expired, because the taxes were late. The taxes were only $14.95, but Losh said the day he went to pay in January, the county’s computers were down. Losh went Tuesday to the DMV office in Newport after paying the overdue taxes. He did not have any official document from Jowers saying he was responsible, but was just trying to help a friend.

“I paid the $50 late fee, and I’m sure not asking my friend Randy in Afghanistan for it when he gets back,” Losh said. “If he comes home in a casket, would they have charged a late fee then? I just think this whole late fee could have been avoided.”

Jowers himself described Losh as “a very dear friend” who was just trying to do him a favor, then had to pay the late fee.

The problem could have been avoided altogether, DMV officials said, if the county taxes were paid on time in January. Then the tag renewal could have been handled by mail in time for the soldier to return to a properly licensed vehicle, said Beth Parks, a DMV spokeswoman.

Losh also did not have documentation about handling affairs for someone else, Parks said, and Newport DMV workers Tuesday were following regular rules in charging the late fee.

Parks said Jowers could get a refund if he submits a form for DMV review when he returns.

“Deployment would be taken into consideration,” Parks said.

Soldiers meet with military lawyers before deployment to make sure bills are going to get paid, to fill out legal and financial documents and more.

Deployed troops do have legal protection from foreclosures, evictions, keeping civilian jobs while deployed – but license plate late fees are not covered by laws that ensure soldiers are not harmed financially while deployed.

So guys like Randy Jowers have to worry about $14 in York County taxes and $24 in DMV tag fees – and now late fees – while the road around them in Afghanistan literally is blown up.

Jowers’ unit, the 178th Combat Engineers with 161 men and women, is scheduled to hand over command of Task Force Prowler in Afghanistan on May 8, and will likely return home by the end of May. In the command of more than 700 soldiers, four have died since late last year.

But a tough, strong guy like Sgt. First Class Randy Jowers is asked to worry about DMV forms while trying to make sure young soldiers the same ages as his sons come home alive.

Jowers is in a war zone and has responsibilities for himself and other soldiers’ safety. His mission and life is far more important than county taxes of $14 and a tag fee of $24 and a late fee of $50, his sons say.

“I do find this frustrating,” Ryan Jowers said. “We know it was late. But he is deployed and that can be verified easily enough. He’s single. His sons are grown and gone.

“We are far more worried about our father coming home safe than license plates....There isn’t a price you can put on him coming back to us safe and alive.”