GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The new year started hard for Michael Couch. Somebody stole his beloved 1995 Chevy Silverado pickup truck from in front of his Grand Rapids home Jan. 2.

The truck vanished — or so he thought. The police even closed the case because it didn’t turn up.

“I thought it was gone for good,” he said.

And he needed it: It was his ride to physical therapy appointments made necessary by a bad accident a few years ago.

Then, nearly five months later in late May, he learned that for most of that time, his truck had been parked in a towing company impound lot.

The system that is supposed to quickly reunite owners with stolen vehicles broke down and Couch found that it would be hard to get his truck back after so long.

The truck had been towed away from a street in a Kentwood mobile home park on Jan. 25, a little more than three weeks after it was stolen. It sat for months in the impound lot, gathering daily storage fees even though nobody told Couch it was there so he could reclaim it.

He said Image Towing first told him that the storage fees topped $11,000. Then, he said, the company lowered it to $5,000, even though he hadn’t been notified until May 31 that his truck was there.

“I said, ‘Man, I don’t have that kind of money,'” he told Target 8 investigators when he called for help.

He was also talking to police and lawyers.

Michael Couch speaks with Target 8 investigator Henry Erb.
Michael Couch speaks with Target 8 investigator Henry Erb.

Couch put a call on speakerphone and a Target 8 reporter heard Image owner Kirk Wakefield tell him to forget the $5,000 and that he would work with him.

Couch said he went to the lot and found that, without his approval, the towing company had body work done on the truck and had a new deal.

“He would reduce the price of the storage to a $1,000 but he said he had $2,000 in the body work and the paint and he wanted that back,” Couch said.

Image owner Wakefield denied he wanted Couch to pay for the unauthorized body work and said it was done by mistake. He said Image thought it had paperwork for the truck that would have declared it abandoned and OK to sell at auction but that the paperwork was actually for a different truck with a registration number just one digit off from Couch’s Silverado.

But how did it get that far? Why didn’t anyone find out the truck had been stolen, not abandoned, and why didn’t anyone tell Couch? Michigan law requires towing companies to notify local police before they remove a seemingly abandoned vehicle from private property so the police can check to see if it is actually reported stolen.

Image Towing says it did reach out to police the day it towed the truck. It says it faxed in the information but Kentwood police say they have no record that they ever got the fax.

Capt. Ryan VanderVeen says the first Kentwood police knew of the truck was a conversation with someone from Image Towing in late May at a vehicle auction, when a worker said they thought they had lost the paperwork on a truck they wanted to sell and asked if police could get them a copy. When the police department got the identifying information on May 24, it quickly discovered that the truck had been stolen and notified the owner.

So did Image fax the info in January? If so, did the fax fail to get through to the police department? Could it have arrived but gotten lost?

“Anything’s a possibility,” VanderVeen said, “but we don’t seem to have this problem at other times so, yeah, to best of our knowledge we never received anything (in January).”

Michael Couch's pickup truck was stolen, then recovered by a towing company, which kept it in storage for months without anybody calling Couch.
Michael Couch’s pickup truck.

In the end, Michael Couch got his truck back for just under $1,600. It’s sitting in his driveway now without the custom wheels that were on it when it was stolen. The towing company says it found it that way. What happened to the custom wheels and who got them is a mystery. People who live on the street where the truck was found said they remember it parked there in January with the wheels on it. One resident even took a photo of the truck more than a week before it was towed showing the wheels.

Regardless, Couch is happy to have his truck back even though he can’t drive it.

“I’m working on trying to get some money,” he said. “I’m going to buy some new tires and rims and I’m going to drive it again. I don’t have no other choice. I have no other vehicle.”