Do you remember the story of Doris Layne, a grandmother and retired city worker? In September, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles was threatening to suspend a Roanoke woman’s driver’s license because of a paperwork issue involving Layne and Farm State Insurance.
The DMV believed Layne did not have insurance on the SUV he bought in July, despite the temporary insurance card his State Farm agent, Don Bishop, issued for the new vehicle on the day of his purchase. After writing the DMV on his behalf, the agency and State Farm got the issue resolved.
Layne isn’t the only State Farm customer who’s been losing sleep lately over a driver’s license threat from Richmond. Another is Mark Gillenwater, a mechanic from the New River Valley who works in Salem. He has been dealing with a similar issue since June.
Earlier that month, Gillenwater sold his gray 1995 Nissan Pickup and bought a red 1995 Nissan Pickup. He called his State Farm Insurance agent, Chance Miller in Cave Spring, to make sure Gillenwater’s auto insurance would cover the changes. At that time, he spoke with Miller’s assistant.
Of course, some errors occurred in the transaction, but it is still not clear why or how. However, the unique Vehicle Identification Numbers, or VINs, of two 1995 Nissan trucks got mixed up in the process.
By the end of the call, Gillenwater thought he had insurance on a red 95 Nissan truck, which he had registered and titled through the DMV. But the VIN that Miller’s assistant wrote down as his new car was instead a gray 95 Nissan Gillenwater truck that had been sold. And Gillenwater did not realize that.
As a result, on July 24 the DMV sent a letter to Gillenwater requesting insurance documents for the red 95 Nissan truck. At that point, Gillenwater called State Farm insurance agent Chance Miller. The agency, Gillenwater said, assured him his 1995 Nissan truck was insured and not to worry.
On August 30, Gillenwater received another letter from the DMV. As with the July letter, it listed the VIN of the red truck and noted that it did not have insurance. The August letter threatened to suspend Gillenwater’s driver’s license unless he could insure the car.
On Sept. 6, Gillenwater’s fiancé, Devin Dausin, called State Farm’s toll-free customer support line about the matter. That’s when Dausin noticed the VIN listed as the truck on Gillenwater’s policy and the VIN on the red Nissan had different numbers.
The insurance policy instead listed the VIN of the gray truck Gillenwater sold, rather than the red truck Gillenwater had purchased. As a result of Dausin’s discovery, his policy was updated with the correct VIN effective September 7.
But that didn’t get Gillenwater off the hook with the DMV. On September 21, the agency sent him a “Suspension Order.”
“This notice is to inform you that your privilege to drive, register vehicles, and obtain license plates and documents in Virginia will be terminated on 10/21/23 because (State Farm) has denied the information you provided (red Nissan),” the letter read.
The Suspension Order required Gillenwater to show the red truck was insured starting Aug. 7, 2023 — or pay the DMV a $600 noncompliance fee.
On September 29, Gillenwater got the insurance verification letter he thought he needed from Chance Miller’s assistant. Gillenwater took it to the DMV in Christiansburg on Saturday, Sept. 30. But DMV officials reported two problems with it.
The first was the date of the letter – October 2, 2023. That was two days later, which seemed suspicious. Worse, the VIN listed on the letter was not for a red 95 Nissan truck either. Instead, it was the VIN of a 1986 Nissan that Gillenwater had sold in 2021.
Later, Dausin related the above story to her mother, who had read my column about Doris Layne’s DMV ordeal. Her mother suggested that Dausin contact me. Dausin’s first email came on October 10. Many more, including dozens of documents, followed.
“The last (and incorrect) letter written (by Chance Miller’s agent) took 1 day, but now we have waited over 7 for an updated letter and Mark’s license should be suspended on 10/21/23. We are writing to you because we do not know what to do next,” Dausin wrote.
“Mark commutes to work every day as a machinist in Salem. We’re getting married in May and thinking about starting a family, every dollar we have counts. The effects of the suspended license are a burden to us.”
Meanwhile, Gillenwater requested a hearing with the DMV regarding the suspension but did not receive a response from the agency regarding a date. He also complained to the Better Business Bureau.
On October 12, I emailed Justin Tomczak, a spokesman for Southeastern State Farm, and asked him about the problems Gillenwater was having. Tomczak said company policy prevented him from discussing specifics.
“In this case, once we were made aware of an issue, we have been working to resolve the customer’s concerns,” Tomczak wrote on Oct. 16.
I also called Chance Miller and emailed him on October 15th, but did not get an immediate response. But a day later, on Oct. 16, Miller called Gillenwater six times to assure her that the proper paperwork had been sent to the DMV, Dausin told me.
Still, “we haven’t received proof of insurance yet and we’re not sure what Miller means when he says it was sent to the DMV,” Dausin wrote.
At the time, the threatened suspension would occur within five days, and the couple heard nothing from the DMV to indicate they were clear with the agency.
On October 17th I contacted the DMV spokeswoman, Jillian Cowherd. I explained the matter to her and asked her to refer Gillenwater’s insurance snafu to the same DMV adjuster who helped Doris Layne.
On October 18, someone at the DMV called Gillenwater twice while he was at work. Gillenwater didn’t hear the phone ringing in the noisy machine shop. However the caller left a message that Gillenwater’s license was not in danger of being suspended because the paperwork had been filed.
October 19th was the day Chance Miller got back to me.
“The DMV sends out letters like this all the time,” he wrote in an email. “We found a problem and solved it for our customer.”
Miller suggested that part of the delay was caused by Dausin. Legally, State Farm couldn’t talk to him about Gillenwater’s insurance problems because he hadn’t given official permission. (Dausin called to adjust the policy because that’s difficult for Gillenwater to do during business hours.)
Gillenwater didn’t give State Farm formal permission to talk about its insurance issues with Dausin until Oct. 12, Miller said.
Miller added that it is his opinion that Gillenwater mistakenly set up the entire snafu by giving Miller’s assistant the wrong VIN on June 2. Miller sent me a photo of his assistant’s handwritten notes showing the wrong VIN, written on a sheet of paper in a spiral-bound notebook.
Gillenwater and Dausin insist he gave the agency the correct VIN from the start. However, they are now relieved to know that Gillenwater’s driving privileges are clear.
“Thank you very much for your help, we really appreciate it,” they wrote in an email.