After two long months of negotiating and waiting, the Long Neck couple whose sports car was wrecked by a car dealership employee finally have a new car to call their own.
The victory red ZL1 Camaro with a black stripe down the top arrived at First State Chevrolet Jan. 31 from a car dealership in Michigan.
“It's a brand new car. It went to a couple of car shows, and that's it,” said John Hooper, who with his wife, Debbie, fought for a proper replacement for the car that was destroyed.
Hooper credits the Berger family and their Michigan car dealership known for selling high-performance cars for making it happen. “We've been friends for decades,” he said.
Hooper, who literally wrote the book on the vehicle with his “1969 Camaro Reference Book,” is an expert on the car. He has testified during court trials and authenticated vehicles for famous names such as baseball legend Reggie Jackson.
The car came with a coveted Berger package that includes blacked-out grilles, special wheels and tires, custom graphics and floor mats. A laminated card signed by the Berger family came with the car stating, “This car was built for John Hooper.”
The Hoopers had been offered other cars to replace the black 2012 ZL1 destroyed by former First State Chevrolet employee Eric Peterson when he took it from the dealership and crashed it Dec. 16 on Zoar Road. Peterson originally was charged with careless driving and no insurance following the accident, and he was fired after the incident.
On Jan. 21, he was indicted in Sussex County Superior Court on third-degree burglary and unauthorized use of a vehicle, a court official said. His bail was set at $750 unsecured bond Feb. 4 pending a March 3 case review.
None of the previous replacement cars offered by First State met Hooper's strict standards.
After the Cape Gazette published a story about the Hoopers' loss and a follow-up story on their difficulties finding a suitable replacement, the story went viral through a Camaro blog site. A General Motors executive intervened, and, Hooper said, he received a voucher from GM to help cover the difference between the value of his old car and the new one.
“It's kind of unheard of,” he said. “I had no idea it would escalate to this. I didn't expect a new car without paying a cent.”
Monte Doran, a spokesman for Chevrolet, said Hooper contacted Chevrolet customer service about the incident. After the ensuing outrage on social media sites, he said, the company decided to step in.
“We're glad we could sort it out and get him a new car,” Doran said.
Bob Hansen, co-owner of First State Chevrolet, said he is also glad the ordeal has been resolved. His dealership has been bombarded with rude phone calls and other attacks since the story went viral, he said. A bogus Facebook page was even created in First State's name that posted snide comments on a number of unrelated news stories.
“I'm absolutely happy it's over,” Hansen said. “It's been a nightmare … We paid quite a bit of money to get it resolved. They got a new car, and First State paid for it.”
On Jan. 4, John and Debbie drove off the First State Chevrolet lot with their victory red ZL1 with only 170 miles and a whole lot riding on it.
“It's in the Berger registry. It has its own pedigree that no one can dispute,” he said.