Vet's car destroyed, mom reaches out for help

Posted at 6:17 PM, Dec 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-04 18:17:52-05

An Army vet's mother reached out to the Contact 5 Investigators for help after his car was crushed by a corporate truck leaving him stranded.

"It's very frustrating. Otherwise I would have never wrote you a note," said Jean Melcher, 84, of the predicament her son Wayne is in. Which is why she sat down, hand wrote a letter and mailed it to us...yep that mail. It's something we don't see too often any more.

"I mean if I did something like that I certainly would do the right thing," Jean added.

Her letter to Contact 5 explained her son's situation. Wayne enlisted in the Army and was stationed in Korea during the 80s.

Now, 25 years later, he has issues with his back and neck stemming from his service. He's also developed COPD which makes it very hard for him to breathe at times and it's getting worse.

"I have appointments. You know, two or three a week," Wayne said.

Appointments are at the VA hospital in West Palm Beach which is 14.28 miles away from Wayne's Lake Worth home. It wasn't a problem until October 26th.

"When I came home there was two (big) trucks parked right there," said Wayne pointing just down the street in front of a home where the company, Southern Gunite, was putting in a pool. A few hours later Wayne says a deputy knocked on his door saying he needed to come see his car.

"What did your car look like when you saw it?" asked Contact 5 Investigator Jared Werksma. Wayne laughed as he said, "Like a roach that got stepped on."

All that remains of Wayne's 2014 Kia Forte are some pieces of busted tail lights and gouges in the pavement where it used to be parked.

According to the police report, the Southern Gunite truck driver said he just "didn't see it" as he was pulling out. That's despite the fact that Wayne's car was parked well ahead of where the truck was parked and on the opposite side of the road.

"You seem to be pretty upset about this," Werksma said to Wayne's mom.

"Well I am upset," Jean responded.

Mostly because Southern Gunite's auto insurance is paying Wayne $6,000 less than he owes on his car.

"I paid $7,600 on that car. I lost all that. I lost my ride to work. I lost my ride anywhere else," Wayne said.

Now he says he has no savings and no options.

"What right does someone have to come and destroy your property?" Jean said. "They can destroy my property and not replace it?" Wayne added.

"Have you seen cases like this before?" asked Werksma

"I have, it's quite unfortunate," replied attorney Daniel Lustig from Pike & Lustig.

"He spent money a down payment and monthly payments and now he has nothing to show for it."  Lustig says it happens all too often when big companies damage property belonging to those without the means to fight back.

“The (insurance company) assigns the fair market value of the car. If the person is not presented by an attorney the insurance company will pay that fair market value without further negotiation. Their whole goal is to spend the least amount of money,” said Lustig.

Contact 5 looked into Southern Gunite's history. From 2012 to 2014 public records show company vehicles only damaged one other car. When we looked into the truck driver's commercial driver's license we found two violations prior to destroying Wayne's car.

“It's just about doing what's right and I would say, (Wayne) needs a car,” Jean said. For now the 84-year-old mom is driving Wayne back and forth to his appointments at the VA or letting him use her car. When we explained the situation to Southern Gunite they told us:

“While we are sorry to hear of Mr. Melcher's financial conditions and appreciate his service to our country, our obligation in this matter has been resolved.”

Attorney Lustig says civil suits are usually the only recourse in situations like this. He also warns anyone in a similar situation not to sign any settlement documentation until you review all your costs, losses and options. Lustig says signing any kind of settlement offer can damage or destroy a potential civil suit in the future.

We shared that information with the Melchers who responded by saying, "we’re not those kind of people."

Contact 5 is still working with Wayne and his mom to figure out what options they have. We'll let you know what happens.