Customers struggle to retrieve cars from closed down auto shop

March 26, 2012 7:35:17 PM PDT
An auto repair shop in Oakland has shut down, leaving its customers no way to retrieve their cars, and the owner is nowhere to be found.

7 On Your Side was contacted by an Oakland man who was at a loss for what to do. Making matters worse, he's a veteran who was dealing with all this from the hospital where he just undergone a major operation.

Ronald Davison served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. Doctors previously amputated his big toe because of a bone infection, and he was about to lose some of the others.

"So my other toes are suffering because they don't have that support," said Davison, who had taken his car in for repairs at I-Max Autotech in Oakland. "The next day I called him. No answer on the phone. The following day I went by there, the shop was closed."

His car sat teasingly right behind a locked gate. The phone at I-Max went unanswered. The owner was nowhere to be found.

"It looks like he just dropped off the face [of the Earth] and abandoned the business," said Davison.

We checked tax records and tracked down the auto shop's owner by phone, but he refused to talk to us. We then called the Bureau of Automotive Repair.

"What we have is this repair facility was closed down," said William Thomas with the Bureau of Automotive Repair. "The owner of the property evicted the tenant who was the operator of the automotive repair facility."

The state located the property owner and he agreed to open up the shop so Davison could get his car back.

"I just want to clean my property because I need to rent it," property owner Marcelo Cabrera said.

Davison arrived a short time later, his hospital bracelet still on his wrist. His toe surgery happened just one week ago.

"I was real happy. I mean, I was overwhelmed that it happened so quickly, you know, after I made contact with you all," he said.

Nearly a dozen cars still sit in the shop. A neighbor who lives two doors down from the shop says many of I-Max's customers have been knocking on his door.

"People were just asking where is he because they wanted their car. I was wondering, too," neighbor Reynaldo Lopez said. "I haven't seen him for a while."

Car owners weren't the only ones wondering -- so was a former employee who came by while we were there.

"Look, my tool box. It's still over there," said former employee Billee Ross.

Ross estimates he left behind $30,000 worth of tools that belonged to him. They are locked up in the shop. He's going to have to live without them for a little while longer.

"My tool box. I have a receipt. I have my document in my tool box. I have the key," he said.

"That's all pretty substantive evidence that it's yours," Thomas told Ross. "Unfortunately, at a later date, the business owner, Mr. Nguyen, can come back and say, 'No, my air impact was in your tool box.'"

The owner of I-Max is Thinh Nguyen. His picture, along with his license, are on the wall of his office. Investigators have been unable to locate him.

Davison is just happy he's finally getting his car back.

"I really appreciate it," Davison said. "I really appreciate all the help you gave me, too."

The property owner is consulting an attorney to work out the return of the tools to the shop's former employees. However, the Bureau of Automotive Repair is still trying to locate the owners of the cars still left in the shop. Anyone who has a vehicle there should call the Bureau of Automotive Repair at 1-800-952-5210.

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