Mary Fisher knew what happened to the three letters and four numbers on her license plate; she just wanted to know why.
And she wanted them back.
"I've had the same license plate for 11 years, and all of a sudden the state gave my letters and numbers to someone else," she said. "Why did they do that?"
Mrs. Fisher, who lives in Robinson, is a retired University of Pittsburgh human resources employee. She took her car in for inspection on May 13 because the numbers on the stamp-sized decal in the upper left corner of her license plate showed that it had to be inspected by May 31.
When she returned home, she looked for the registration renewal notice for her car that the state usually mails out well in advance of its expiration date.
Among other things, the notice asks owners for their signature, the vehicle's mileage and insurance carrier.
Mrs. Fisher, a meticulous housekeeper, couldn't find it.
She carefully went through junk mail that she always sets aside for shredding to make sure the notice wasn't in there. It wasn't. "I shred everything with my name on it," she said.
Concerned that she had less than three weeks to get her registration renewed and a new decal sticker for her license plate, she drove to the PennDOT office in Bridgeville. She explained her problem. A man at the counter said she had to go to an AAA office.
She went to the AAA office in Robinson. The woman who waited on her at the counter asked her for the letters and numbers on her license plate. When she provided them, Mrs. Fisher said the woman asked:
"Are you sure? That plate is registered to a man in Uniontown."
Mrs. Fisher assured the woman that the letters and number had been on her license plate since 2002. The woman told her she would have to get a new plate.
Mrs. Fisher said she told the woman that a mistake obviously had been made somewhere, that she wasn't responsible for the mistake and that she wanted the state to, in effect, return the letters and numbers to her.
"It wasn't my error," she said.
She said the AAA woman couldn't tell her what had happened and was "more intimidating" than helpful.
"I was so upset. She made me feel as though it was my fault that this had happened. And if it happened to me, how many other people in Pennsylvania has it happened to?"
She said the woman told her that she could be fined for continuing to use a license plate that had been assigned to someone else.
Mrs. Fisher filled out the paperwork and paid for a new plate ($36 to the state plus $10 to the AAA), but she would like an explanation of what happened.
"I was at the AAA for an hour," she said. "I was shaking when I got home. It was very upsetting. The more I thought about it, the more I thought it just wasn't right. That's why I called the Post-Gazette."
I sent an email about Mrs. Fisher's problem to Craig Yetter, a PennDOT community relations coordinator. He forwarded it to one of his colleagues, and Mrs. Fisher's problem was promptly resolved. She's getting her license plate back.
"I'm so thrilled," she said. "They told me the license plate issued to the man in Uniontown should have had at least one letter or number that was different from mine. They're going to send me the paperwork and they're not going to charge me for it. I really appreciate your help."
Lawrence Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-1895. Please provide your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email and phone call.