Call Collett: Mechanic steals car, crashes

A Lowcountry woman dropped her car off at the local AAMCO shop for repairs, and three weeks later she got a call it was involved in a drunk driving wreck. The car had been stolen by the repair shop mechanic, but the Summerville AAMCO wouldn’t pay for the damages.  That’s why the car owner called Collett.

Wilma Estrada dropped her car off because it was shaking when she was driving.

“He’s going to replace the spark plugs and something else,” she explained.

After three weeks in the shop, she woke up to a call from police.

Estrada learned Ryan Hampson, the AAMCO employee who was working on her car, was driving her car in downtown Charleston when he crashed through a construction work zone, according to police reports.   Hampson was charged with  DUI. Police found him asleep behind the wheel, according to the police incident report.  He was parked in the middle of Huger Street.

When Estrada picked up her car from the impound lot, she found portable speakers plugged into the car.  Estrada wondered how long Hampson had been driving her car.  The car was scratched and the tire was blown out. Stunned by the incident, she called the general manager of the Summerville AAMCO to ask him to pay for the tow, impound, and the body work needed to fix the SUV.

“We are calling and calling him,” Estrada explained. “And the same scenario, he is talking to his boss.”

And that’s why she called Collett.

The general manager at the Summerville AAMCO told News 2 the shop wasn’t responsible for the wrecked car.  He recommended the Estradas file a claim with Ryan Hampson’s insurance since he stole the car from their lot.

That’s not how it works according to New 2’s legal analyst, Michael Dill of Cobb, Dill & Hammett, LLC, who consulted with us on the story.

“The body shop owner has certain obligations to the owner of the car,” Dill explained. “Most importantly it is to protect the car.”

Dill says repair shops should have specific insurance to cover incidents like this.

Armed with this information, we called the AAMCO corporate headquarters. After several phone calls and email exchanges,  the GM had a change of heart.  In a statement a corporate spokesman wrote:

“We deeply regret the incident in Summerville and the Estrada’s unsatisfactory experience.  The owner of the independent AAMCO franchise in Summerville terminated the employee involved in the incident and will be covering all related expenses incurred by the consumer.”

The total damage to  Estrada’s SUV was $5,400.

Through our investigation, we learned Ryan Hampson has a history of stealing cars and committing other crimes.  He admitted guilt in 2004 to be in possession of a stolen car.  The company couldn’t explain if a background check was done before he was hired.  Currently his DUI case is pending.  His attorney requested a jury trial.

Dill recommends when you leave your car with someone for any sort of service to ask how the keys are locked away and who has access to them.

In this case, Hampson was the manager with access to the keys.

If any AAMCO Center customers have any concern with their experience at an AAMCO Center, the company encourages them to contact the toll free Consumer Hotline at 1-800-523-0401.

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