Where was Dorothy and Don Poling’s car at 2:58 p.m. Sept. 30, 2016?

The Washington Department of Transportation’s cameras and computers said it was crossing the Washington State Route 520 toll bridge over Lake Washington between Seattle and Bellevue.

And it charged the Haines couple $5.25 for doing so.

No way, said the Polings.

Their car was more or less 1,628 miles away. Their 2002 Ford Focus – bought used in 2005 in Juneau and equipped in 2011 with vanity plates that read “HAINES” – has never been to Washington.

Or so they said.

People? High-tech gadgetry? Whom do you trust?

In this case, go with people.

This week, after being contacted by the Chilkat Valley News, the Washington Department of Transportation reviewed the toll video.

The vehicle turned out to be a Chevrolet truck with an Alaska “HAINES” vanity plate in front and a different conventional Alaska plate in back, said Emily Pace, spokeswoman for the department on Wednesday.

That nullifies the Poling’s $5.25 toll, she said.

“We feel relieved,” Don Poling said.

This story began Oct. 21 when the Polings received an envelope from the Washington Department of Transportation’s toll payment center. In it was a bill stating that a vehicle with Alaska license plate “HAINES” crossed the Route 520 bridge at 2:58 p.m. Sept. 30 – and that the Polings owed Washington $5.25 by Nov. 2.

Washington charges tolls on two bridges – the Route 520 bridge between Seattle and Bellevue and the State Route 16 bridge between Tacoma and Gig Harbor. On both, a camera automatically clicks a photo of the license plate of each passing car. Then computers identify the car’s owner and address, and mail a toll bill.

The bill surprised the Polings.

“I laughed and (my wife) got mad. She hates to do extra paperwork because someone else screws up,” Don Poling said.

“The car needed an alibi. It made me suspicious of the car. Maybe it was sneaking out behind our backs,” he added.

The Polings called the toll payment center, and were referred to a government form to mail in to dispute their toll.

“It cost us at least $6 to send the pile of paperwork to them,” Poling said.

The Polings rounded up witnesses to give written statements to the transportation department that they and their Ford Focus were in Haines on Sept. 30.

Bill Annis wrote that he, Poling, others and some camera equipment rode out in a Ford Focus with a “HAINES” license plate to a borough site to watch and photograph the aurora borealis on the evening of Sept 30.

“There is no possible way Mr. Poling’s Ford Focus was anywhere conceivably close to the E. Seattle Bridge on the aforementioned date,” Annis wrote.

Carol Mitchell’s testament said: “When he and Dorothy travel from time to time, I know how and by what means they go, since I take care of their cat while they are away.”

Mitchell also wrote that she saw Don Poling drive the Ford Focus to the aurora borealis viewing on Sept. 30, “and that is that.”

Lawrence Hurlock of Juneau also backed the car’s alibi. He wrote to the tolling payment center: “Since they bought their Ford Focus wagon – here in Juneau – on my advice, it has never been to the continental United States. … If your equipment shows that the Alaska license plate ‘HAINES’ was ever in the state of Washington, something is wrong with your equipment and it needs an upgrade.”

Cindy Jackson, manager of the Haines Senior Center, also wrote an alibi letter. But she could only confirm that the Ford Focus was in Haines on Sept. 27.

Dorothy and Don Poling are both 73, and have enough aches and pains that they hate driving long distances. They fly when they visit Seattle.

Don Poling and Hurlock said the Ford’s longest trips away from Haines in recent years have been to Whitehorse and Haines Junction in the Yukon. And someone else had to drive the car those times in the Polings’ place.

On Oct. 31, the Polings talked by phone with someone at the toll payment center who described the Alaska license in the toll bridge photo as having mountains in the background and no tags on the plate.

The Polings’ Ford’s plates have trees, an elk, plus the Big Dipper and North Star in the background. The rear plate has its tags.

The Polings mailed their statement, their car’s alibis, and photos of their front and rear license plates on their car to the toll payment center in Seattle.

The Polings had a couple of theories that they shared with the Washington state government: Maybe someone has an Alaska license plate issued prior to 2011 that says “HAINES.” Or maybe someone bought a novelty license plate that says “HAINES.”

All this meant more to the Polings than $5.25. What if the mystery car crosses more toll bridges? What if the mystery car gets in trouble?

Then the long arm of the law – and of the state transportation department – could have reached up again from Washington to the Polings in Haines.

Poling said: “The title of this should be: ‘A Bridge Too Far.’”