It's been three weeks since a car dealership employee totaled Debbie and John Hooper's sports car. They're out a car and still making payments on it, and now they doubt the dealership will ever get them a limited-edition Camaro similar to the pristine collectible they once owned.
“We're not asking for a million dollars, we're really not,” said John Hooper of Long Neck, a published author on Camaros who says they are his passion.
In November, John and his wife Debbie took their 2012 Camaro ZL1 to First State Chevrolet of Georgetown to fix an ongoing paint problem. That was the last time they would ever drive the car.
On Dec. 16, the dealership called to inform them a joy-riding employee had taken the sports car out for a spin Dec. 15 and crashed it on Zoar Road.
Now, the Hoopers said, they are just trying to get a car comparable to the brand-new vehicle they purchased in 2012 and had meticulously cared for.
“The fact of the matter is, we bought the car as a collectible car,” Debbie said. “It was going to go to our granddaughter, and it may have even paid for a year of college.”
Two Camaros the dealership offered as replacements are not comparable to what they lost, John said.
The latest was the same year and model but had 3,000 miles more, and its wheels were less expensive than those on the original car. Even with a $4,000 cash offering, he said, it didn't compare with what they lost. Then Debbie found out from a Camaro website that the car had previously had two different owners and had been involved in an accident. They definitely weren't interested after that, she said.
First State salesman Chuck Ricker said he's tried to find a car to replace the one totaled by the dealership employee.
“It's a terrible tragedy, and they should be put back where they were,” he said.
Following the crash that totaled the Hoopers' car, Delaware State Police charged Eric Peterson, 42, of Georgetown with careless driving and failure to have insurance identification in possession. Debbie Hooper said police told her that she could not file theft or any other criminal charges against Peterson because the car was in the dealership's possession at the time of the accident.
Bob Hansen, co-owner of First State Chevrolet, said Peterson also would be charged with unauthorized use. A magistrate judge told Hansen that Peterson could not be charged with theft because he was a dealership employee with a key, Hansen said. Peterson no longer works at the dealership, he said.
“He's going to be charged with as much as we could charge him with,” Hansen said.
In 2012, Hansen said, the Hoopers bought the brand-new, limited-edition vehicle from First State for about $56,000. At the time of the accident, he said, the vehicle had about 10,000 miles on it.
Hansen said he feels confident there are models with comparable mileage available to replace the Hoopers' car, and he wants to help them find a replacement.
“But if they want to go up to a brand-new 2014, it's going to cost them something,” he said. “They're not going to get a brand-new car.”
After determining the Camaro was totaled, the Hoopers' Geico adjuster estimated the car was worth $44,176 - a much lower price than the nearly $60,000 the couple paid.
Hansen said he has liability insurance, but would not comment on whether that would cover any of the expenses incurred when the Hoopers' car was in the dealership's care.
“I have no further comment,” he said. “We're still negotiating."
In the meantime, Debbie Hooper said they continue to make payments on a vehicle they will never drive again.
She said they met with an attorney this week, but were told they are entitled to no pain and suffering, lawyer or court costs.
“It's going to end up costing us more money if we go forward with the attorney,” she said.
The Hoopers said they have been driving a loaner car from First State with a cracked windshield since their car went in for the paint problem. While they said they appreciate the loaner vehicle, they would rather have their old car back.
“We're losing sleep over this, time off from work, and this still isn't resolved,” John Hooper said. “This is so ethically and morally wrong it isn't funny.”