Harrison County

This Coast resident was driving a ‘ghost’ truck. Could it happen to you?

Imagine Diamondhead resident Terry King’s horror when a police officer pulled him over because the officer had run King’s license plate and found no record of his truck registration in the state’s motor-vehicle computer system.

The traffic stop could have gone south, but King was not ticketed. Instead, he and the officer agreed his tag was, at the very least, expired and the inability to find the vehicle in the system was a mystery they couldn’t solve on the roadside.

King was horrified once again when he found out the tag would cost him around $800. Because there was no record of the original tag, he was told that he would have to pay for a new one for his 2017 Honda Ridgeline pickup.

King instead decided to chance driving a little longer with an expired plate and do a little investigating.

He found out that his title had been entered twice into the state’s computer system, once when he got his registration from Hancock County and a second time when the dealership sent the title to the state of Mississippi.

The second title kicked out his Hancock County registration and tag, according to the Mississippi Department of Revenue.

As a result King got no notice when his tag expired. He assumed that his wife had renewed the tag. But he had been driving around for 15 months with an expired license plate.

He said he credits the young Diamondhead officer, whose name he does not know, for routinely checking license plates as a way to find stolen vehicles.

Hancock County tax assessor and collector Jimmie Ladner worked with the state to straighten out King’s ghosted truck and renewed the license for $260. King said he didn’t have to pay a late fee.

“Those renewal notices are important . . . but they are a courtesy,” Ladner said. “It is everybody’s responsibility to come in and get their car tag renewed when it expires.”

Kathy Waterbury of the Revenue Department said what happened to King would be “extremely rare,” with the new computer system the state has been using for the last year. The system tracks vehicles by Vehicle Identification Number rather than by title.

Mississippi was one of the last states to get the newer computer system, which puts its 3 million registered vehicles into a national database.

“When you’ve got 3 million vehicles entered in the system,” Waterbury said, “there’s going to be some issue along the way, but it’s very rare what happened.”