WAYLAND, Mich. (WOOD) - When the Chevy Tahoe Jill Root owned stopped running, she couldn't bear to put any more cash into it, so she donated it to Goodwill of Southwestern Michigan.
"I loved my Tahoe," she told Target 8. "I thought if they're going to fix it up, maybe they'll get it so someone who loved it as much as I did."
But in October - more than a year after she had donated the vehicle - she got a letter from the State of Michigan saying that her beloved Tahoe had been found stripped and abandoned in the city of Kalamazoo. The title was still in her name, the state said, and now she would have to pay the tow fees or go to court.
"I was really nervous. I'd never been to court," she told Target 8. "I didn't have the extra money and I didn't know what to do. I was pretty much freaking out."
The communications director for Goodwill of Southwestern Michigan told Target 8 by phone Friday that a Kalamazoo garage owner had agreed to buy the Tahoe from the charity for scrap -- but he took the vehicle and never paid the agreed-upon price.
The Kalamazoo police report obtained by Target 8 backs up Goodwill's story, though it does appear the garage owner tried to make partial payment. The police report also said the man who ran Goodwill's car program told police he was "extremely embarrassed" by the situation and was trying to "make it right by everyone." The Goodwill employee said he had inherited the "heap of a mess" from a "predecessor" who no longer works for the charity.
Shortly after this story was published, that "predecessor" called 24 Hour News 8 to defend his performance as manager of Goodwill's Workers on Wheels program.
"The real truth is what happened to Ms. Root had nothing to do with a 'heap of a mess' being left for anyone but had everything to do with the way I was treated when my stint with the agency was ended", said Tom Larthridge.
Larthridge told 24 Hour News 8 that he was "abruptly laid off after eleven years with no notice, no warning." Because of that, he says he did not have the opportunity to bring Goodwill up to speed regarding Root's donated Tahoe.
"I would think if nothing else... the agency would want to know of pressing matters so that situations like this one don't happen," Larthridge told 24 Hour News 8.
"I was about to cry," Jill Root said. "I was very upset."
Fortunately for Root, she did what the Michigan Secretary of State's office says you should always do to protect yourself. Root had kept all the documents Goodwill had provided her at the time she donated the vehicle. Those documents proved that Root had indeed signed the Tahoe over to Goodwill. Even though the title was still in Root's name, she was ultimately not held liable for the scrapped vehicle or any bills connected to it. She called Kalamazoo Police to help straighten out the situation.
Goodwill, which told Target 8 that protecting donors is always its first priority, took care of the bills in part by giving the now-scrapped Tahoe to the company that had towed it, T&J Towing, free of charge. T & J recently recieved the official title - switched into the tow company's name - from the state of Michigan.
According to the Michigan vehicle code, organization's that hold a "dealer's license" - which Goodwill says it does - do not always have to transfer a title immediately into its own name. Goodwill says that was true in the case of the Tahoe.
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