Even worse is having the authorities discount your story.
This “he said, she said” story has evidence. Evidence that NJ Transit refuses to recognize.
It all started when Ashley Henderson, 31, of Roselle, headed into New York City with two friends.
The date was June 25, and they were going to a yacht party Henderson arranged to celebrate a friend’s birthday.
Henderson was driving her 2007 black Nissan Altima. She paid the toll at the Lincoln Tunnel and angled toward the right-side tube. The lanes were jammed with vehicles, she said, all merging to get into the tunnel.
It happened when she was about 5 feet from the tunnel entrance.
“A bus shot past us to get into the tunnel before us,” she said. “As you are aware, there are only two lanes. My friend in the passenger side began to cringe as she saw the bus getting close to the car.”
Henderson said her friend shouted “It’s going to hit!”
The bus sideswiped the right side of her car, she said. The time was about 7:22 p.m. Given that no one was hurt, she continued to travel into the tunnel.
“I continued after the bus and my friend in the passenger side took pictures,” she said.
Henderson tapped the license plate and bus number into her phone’s notepad feature, which shows a time stamp of 7:24 p.m.
The next day, Henderson filed a police report with the Port Authority, detailing her side of the story. The report included the bus license plate number that she had stored in her phone at the time of the incident.
She later contacted NJ Transit to make a claim about the accident.
Henderson received the paperwork she needed to complete, dated July 8. She filled out the forms, including a description of the accident, her photo evidence, her registration, insurance information and two estimates to repair the car — for $5,472 and $4,046.
When NJ Transit responded, the news wasn’t good for Henderson.
“They denied that their driver was at fault and totally denied my claim,” she said. “I submitted all of the documentation that they asked me for to investigate my claim, which I provided, in addition to pictures of their bus inside of the Lincoln Tunnel after it hit my car.”
The denial letter was brief.
“Please be advised that NJ Transit has completed its investigation into the above captioned incident and finds no negligence or liability on the part of itself or any of its employees,” it said.
Henderson called to get a better understanding of why the claim was denied, asking Hill if she could appeal. She said Hill told her there were no appeals, but he would ask a supervisor to look into it.
Henderson called a month later for an update.
“They stated that they have a chip inside of the bus that tells the bus location and the device states that the bus was not going into the Lincoln Tunnel at the time that it hit my car,” she said. “They state that the bus was in the garage at the time of the accident.”
Henderson had a hard time accepting that answer.
“Even though I have a clear picture of the bus number and license plate in the tunnel at that time, they are denying my claim or payment for the damages,” she said. “I just want my car to be paid for because I do not think that it is right that I be held responsible for damages that a careless bus driver has caused.”
She then spoke to the supervisor, Anthony Santelli.
“He said that I would have to prove that the bus hit my car and I told him that the picture was there and I have the bus number, and he said that the claim was denied,” she said. “He said that I could have taken the picture at any time and the tracker on the bus states that it was not in that location at the time of the accident and so I have no grounds.”
Henderson said she didn’t want to go through her insurance company because she feared higher rates or being dropped because of the accident, even though she said it wasn’t her fault. If NJ Transit wasn’t willing to pay her for repairs, it wasn’t likely her insurance company could collect from NJ Transit either, she said.
She contacted Bamboozled for help.
WEIGHING THE EVIDENCE
We reviewed Henderson’s story, the paperwork she sent to NJ Transit and the denial letter.
We also looked at the photos of the back of the bus, taken by Henderson’s friend.
Then we called NJ Transit and asked it to review the case.
While we waited for a response, we asked Henderson for more proof of the time and date of the accident. The photos of the bus were shot with her friend’s cell phone. We asked her to have her friend send us the photos directly so we could examine the “properties” of the shots, which would show the exact time and date the photos were taken.
While Henderson contacted her friend, NJ Transit responded to us.
“The claim by Ms. Henderson was thoroughly investigated in accordance with the law and our established procedures for such matters,” spokesman William Smith said. “Due to the legal nature of the issue we are unable to release any additional details regarding the claim or its disposition.”
We asked if this bus had a GPS unit that would allow NJ Transit to be sure of the location of the bus. We also asked the age of the bus, because not all the older buses have been retrofitted with the units.
Smith said there are 2,205 buses in the fleet, and an “overwhelming majority are equipped with GPS technology.”
“As far as the specific bus in question, due to the legal matter, I am unable to answer any specific questions regarding the bus, including its age and whether or not it was equipped with GPS,” he said.
Then we received an e-mail from Henderson with the photos and their time and date stamps, which read June 25, 2013, with the times of 7:22, 7:23, 7:24 and 7:26.
We shared the photos with NJ Transit.
“We have nothing further to add to our original statement,” Smith said.
We asked if anyone had looked at the bus to see if it had any damage, but Smith said NJ Transit had no further comment on the matter.
That same day, we filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Port Authority, hoping that surveillance video outside the tunnel on that June evening could add more clarity. A Port Authority spokesman told us not to have high expectations that the request would be approved because of Homeland Security-type reasons.
We’ll let you know if it comes through.
So in the mean time, you decide.
Perhaps Henderson and her photo-snapping friend are techie hackers who can override the cell phone’s network to change the time and date on the phone and the photos.
Because we’re suspicious by nature, we asked a cell phone expert if that was possible.
He said nothing is impossible, but it’s not an easy feat because of the triangulation of the cell network. He said the average phone user isn’t sophisticated enough to do it, but if they could, he asked, “Why waste their evil genius picking on NJ Transit?”
And before you ask, there are programs that will allow you to change the time and date of digital photos on your computer, but the photos that were sent to Bamboozled came directly from the friend’s phone.
Perhaps the bus did some kind of time warp, or maybe it pulled a “Beam me up, Scotty” while engaging in a trip with the Starship Enterprise’s teleporter.
Or maybe NJ Transit made a mistake.
Henderson said she’s considering legal action. We’ll let you know what happens.