Here's my story with BB&T. This happened recently:
I have had an account with them for years. I was with First Virginia which BB&T took over. My guess is that I started with 1st Va around 1990. They offered a free safety deposit box which I have had for over 15 years. BB&T honored the arrangement.
I go into the box about twice a year to get savings bonds which are in my kids names. They cash them and pay for college.
Several Saturdays ago I walk in to get the bonds for my last two in college children - a frehman and a junior. I present my key but they can't find my sign-in card. I'll spare you the details of the ensuing hour and a half but needless to say I felt some nasty anxiety. They had no record of me ever having had a box!! Even phone calls to what I assume was the main office could not find any record of a box I have had for at least 15 years and many of those years with BB&T!!
Ultimately they realized they had drilled the box and moved the contents to another place in the vault.
Then they presented me with a bill for $321 that included a $150 charge for drilling the lock!!!
They offered me a 50% discount on the bill which I at first refused but then agreed to as it was the only way in which I could get my property.
The following Thursday I received a call in response to an email I sent to the bank via its website. The service rep heard my story, called it bizarre and I haven't heard from them since.
They must do alot of good things at BB&T. Customer service is not one of them.
I had a similar experience. I had been in the branch less than a month earlier using the box when I received a registered letter telling me they had drilled my box because they could not tell who the box belonged to. Again, like you, I had the box for several years (and had regularly paid the annual bill). They did not have the nerve to try to charge me for their mistake and I moved the box to WB (their service has also been less than stellar, but they haven't drilled my box yet...they also have a problem keeping up with signature cards and THEIR keys)...you know, you'd think safety deposit boxes are about as simple as it gets for a bank, but there must be more challenge to it than meets the eye. BB&T must have some issues with their safety deposit systems or process. They are always very nice, but I have found BB&T error prone. Their processes seem to be very manual (do things on paper rather than automated) and they are inconsistent between locations (just not consistently on the same page...sort of like a bunch of disconnected operations rather than one organization). I think that contributes to the errors I have experienced.
Ugly story, especially when they hand you a bill, but crap like this happens at every bank, BB&T no exception. Did you keep your checking and saving with them, as well? If so, then that little fiasco actually means that you PAID BB&T for the use of YOUR money for a long time (since they don't pay any real dividends on those accounts). You need to find another bank.