By Snejana Farberov
An Alabama couple say they ended up in a modern-day equivalent of a debtor’s jail after they had failed to pay court fees in connection to a minor traffic violation as their young son lay dying in the hospital.
Tim Fugatt, a music pastor from Sylacauga, Alabama, was pulled over in Childersburg in December 2010 and issued a ticket for driving with an expired tag on his license plate.
At the time of the traffic stop, Mr Fugatt was returning home from visiting his terminally ill infant son, Cole, suffering from a rare brain disease.Fugatt’s wife of 12 years, Kristy, also had received tickets for two traffic violations, and both husband and wife were ordered to appear at the Childersburg Municipal Court.
The couple told a judge about their gravely ill child and were both found not guilty, but the judge ruled they still had to pay $500 in court fees.
Mr Fugatt, who also has two older children, said at the time of his young son’s illness he could not hold down a steady job because he was spending much of his time at the hospital, according to PBS’ NewsHour.
When the family were unable to come up with the necessary funds to cover the court costs, their case was turned over to the Judicial Corrections Services, a private company that collects fines for the City of Childersburg.
A short time later, Mr Fugatt said he received a notice from the company threatening him and his wife with jail.
‘They would just plain out say, you know, “If you can’t pay then they’ll issue you a warrant for your arrest,”‘ Fugatt recalled in an interview with NewsHour, which initially broke the story in April.
The debt collectors made good on their threat in 2012 when the Fugatts stopped making payments and Kristy Greer-Fugatt missed one of their court dates.
‘I felt completely like a criminal,’ the Alabama pastor recalled. ‘I mean I didn’t sell drugs. I didn’t break into anyone’s home. I didn’t kill anybody. I had an expired tag.’
The couple were sprung from jail a few hours after being taken into custody when a relative paid a portion of their debt.