Friday Fun: World’s biggest collision repair job; husband and wife locked in legal battle over repair shop

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario — December 1, 2017 — In this week’s edition of Friday Fun, botched insurance scams, the world’s biggest single collision repair job, a tragic case in Winnipeg finally goes to court, and much, much more.

Police think a driver may have fallen asleep behind the wheel this past Sunday morning when a car crashed into an auto body shop in southeast Portland. The vehicle crashed through the front windows of Epic Auto Body, damaging both the building and the vehicle according to local paper Katu 2. When officers responded they found the driver a few blocks away from the scene of the accident.

The biggest collision repair of 2017 hit a snag this week. The USS Fitzgerald, the US destroyer that was hit by a container ship in Tokyo Bay, was to begin its journey back to the United States for repairs on a heavy lift ship. But the ship’s hull was punctured during the onloading process. The destroyer had to return on the Heavy Load Carrier vessel, Transshelf to repair the puncture before proceeding to the shipyard in the United States where the ship will be repaired. According to a report from The Diplomat, “Because Fitzgerald also sustained significant damage to its combat systems and sensitive electronics spaces, it required the specialized services of a yard like Huntington Ingalls, which is one of the two shipyards that builds Arleigh Burke-class destroyers from the keel up. The Transshelf took the Fitzgerald back to Yokosuka where this new damage will be repaired sufficiently to make the voyage across the Pacific back to the United States.”

Another story about the remarkable boom in sales of RVs appeared in the auto trade press this week. It seems baby boomers, now retiring in great numbers, are hittin’ the road. According to a story from Jalopnik, “Shipments of RVs in 2017 are expected to hit their highest in nearly four decades, according to data from the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association. That would mark the eighth straight year of growth. RV shipments are expected to hit 505,600 in 2017, a 17.4 percent jump from last year, and then hit 520,700 in 2018, according to the association.” A source quoted in the story said, “Each and every month this year was the best on comparable record for that month.” It is thought, “Low gasoline prices have helped fuel sales in recent years, as have low interest rates that have eased financing of items that range in price from $10,000 to $1 million,” according to the story. The RV collision repair market is a relatively niche sector. But presumably this is an area of the industry that is going to see more business in the years to come.

A report from US-based NPR notes the Trump administration is, “… hitting the brakes on a range of Obama-era trucking safety regulations.” The story goes on to say that some truckers in the US are hoping for a “last-minute reprieve” from a safety mandate scheduled to take effect next month. Truckers are going to be forced to use electronic logging devices, or ELDs, which eliminate the use of old paper logbooks to track hours. Similar measures are taking effect in some provinces here in Canada. Ontario has suffered a spate of major collisions involving heavy trucks over the past few years, leading to calls for ELDs. Truckers are worried they’ll no longer be able to get in necessary naps on their journeys as trucking companies monitor every mile driven. According to an Ontario trucker who called in to a radio talk show this past week the current system allows drivers to build in stops to their journey that can be necessary to prevent driving while drowsy. The proponents of ELDs say the system is needed to reduce accidents. According to the US media report, the existing system of paper-based logbooks, “… dates back to the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s. The documents sometimes are called ‘comic books’ because they’re so easily fudged. Safety advocates say there is good reason for the ELD mandate: Fatigue is a common factor in truck-related crashes.” According to a source quoted in the story, “We see these issues in crash after crash, and we’re tired, yes we are tired, of seeing commercial drivers being tired.”

The Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) has managed to get itself into a “very public spat with the province’s auto body repair shops,” according to a report from North Shore News. The spat “… started when the union representing ICBC workers alleged that some auto body shops have been charging more than they should, and that ICBC doesn’t have enough staff to check up on the estimates. The auto repair guys responded by calling the accusations ‘simply not true,; arguing that ICBC’s software system has built-in safeguards that won’t allow auto body shops to estimate beyond certain prices for parts and labour on any claim over $1,500.” Reports on the dispute from the province generally fail to point out that the complexity and sophistication of cars has exploded over the last couple years. The public doesn’t seem aware of the rising cost of repair as a result of the new sensors and cameras on cars. Collision repair shop owners in the province would be wise to ensure that fact is part of the debate taking place in that province.

Another report from US-based Automotive News suggests that auto plants are being hit hard by the opiod epidemic that is washing across North America. A reporter attending the, “… 23rd annual Soberfest, put on by UAW Local 598 Washington,” reports that,  “… the auto industry has a more serious drug crisis today than ever.” A source quoted in the story said, “It’s not alcohol, it’s not marijuana now. You’re dealing with meth, you’re dealing with the opioids, you’re dealing with the heroin. It’s starting to show up more and more at the automakers’ doorsteps. The source on to say that the Big Three in Detroit are “going through a transition with all the buyouts and the changing of the guard, which means there is a lot of people retiring. [As a result] …we’re getting a work force now of a lot of younger people who are experiencing different drugs.”

A major court case in Winnipeg, as reported by the Times Colonist, is being closely followed in that area of the country by both the Winnipeg Free Press and the CBC. The case has been mentioned in this space before and involves a formerly married couple who were in the process of selling and splitting up the proceeds from a local auto body shop. The case tragically ended involving the mailing of three letter bombs that badly injured a lawyer for one of the pair. The court case has been scheduled to last over 30 days and is a daily item on the front page in the prairie city. The general outline of the story had been told before, but the details of the letter bombings are emerging in the trial. Three bombs were sent to the wife and two law firms in 2015. The husband now faces five counts of attempted murder and several explosives-related charges.

The pair had been in a bitter divorce battle that was dragging on for years. The two had actually divorced in 2004. But they continued to operate the collision repair shop, Euro-Tech Autobody, together. The wife claimed her husband had not paid the money owed, and so she launched a civil suit. The husband met with officers from the RCMP’s commercial crimes unit in 2011 and filed a complaint about money he said was missing from the business. An RCMP officer testified in the current court case that he met the accused in 2011 after receiving an email from the husband. According to the officer, the husband claimed that, “… unreported sales in the amount of $4 million,” were being transferred out of the company to accounts in Germany by his ex-wife, who was the long-time book keeper at the business, “… even after the two divorced.” According to the RCMP officer the husband claimed his ex-wife and her parents were behind the money transfers out of the business. “He said these people needed to go to jail. He wanted them to go to jail,” the officer was quoted as saying. The RCMP reviewed a binder of information they had been given, but eventually contacted the husband to say they would not be laying criminal charges. According to the RCMP office, “[He] was not happy with my opinion.”

The accused filed a public complaint against the officer. Eventually the husband agreed to pay his ex-wife $40,000 and to the equipment from the autobody business. Eight days before the auction the first explosion occurred at the office of the lawyer working for the wife. The responding officer testifying, was quoted as saying, “There was a considerable amount of blood.” The lawyers right hand suffered the most damage. According to the officer’s testimony, “It was like an empty glove. The skin was still there but the flesh and the bone were gone.” The second bomb was “neutralized” by the bomb unit. The third bomb, inside a greeting card that made a sound when opened, was also found before it exploded. Officers also testified that search warrants at buildings connected to the defendant revealed a basement workshop that was, “… littered with electronic devices and tools, including soldering irons, a roll of copper wire… partially disassembled Christmas tree bulbs… [and] a disassembled electronic greeting card.”

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