I’ve written on this topic twice before and didn’t think I would need to write about again. But as new collectors come into this industry, old lessons are not always passed on. So here’s the lesson.
It’s a little before 3:00am, very quiet. A tow truck is idling up backwards into a driveway intending to repossess a Ford truck. Suddenly the lights in the house come on and a man runs outside. The repo driver, afraid for his life, drives away and leaves the Ford behind. 15 minutes later, another repo man backs up into the same driveway. This time the debtor is waiting on his porch with a 30-30 telescopic rifle and he shoots the repossessor through the neck and both lungs, killing him.
This sad scene took place on Feb 24, 1994 in Houston Texas. Tommy Morris was the second repo man in this story and he left behind his wife and 4 children. The debtor who did the killing, Jerry Casey, Jr, was never arrested for his actions but ended up committing suicide 8 months later. The sad part of this story is that this tragedy could have been avoided if the dealer who assigned out the repossession order did not engage in the dangerous and highly censured practice of “double assigning” accounts. Double assigning an account is: assigning an account out for repossession to two or more repossession agents in the same geographical area at the same time.
Some 3 years after the shooting a Jury ruled that Steeplechase Motors was mostly liable for Morris’ death because of their policy of double assigning and advised a $2.3 million judgment against Steeplechase, of which the judge ultimately awarded the family $750,000.
I was in the field repossessing cars when this incident happened. I well remember the furor it created in the repossession industry and how the not-completely uncommon practice of double assigning accounts stopped dead in the lending community because of it. But memories are short, and today I am again seeing this dangerous activity coming back to life.
Here’s an example of an incident that happened just last month. We had been assigned an account for repossession and we found the car was being kept in a carport at a duplex with another car blocking it in each night. After checking this account for over a week we finally found the car there one night not blocked in and repossessed it. The debtor redeemed the car the next day. The following night another repossession company repossessed this same car for this same lender. The lender had double assigned the account and neglected to close the account with the other company after we had repossessed it. I had learned about this because I am good friends with the other company owner and he told me the lender was not wanting to pay his repossession fee because we had already repossessed the car earlier.
In this case, it was the debtor and lender who suffered and no one was actually hurt. But if this practice continues it will only be a matter of time before somebody is. If you don’t think your repossession agency is working your accounts properly, find another agency. There are plenty of good ones out there. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If your agent isn’t coming up with the vehicle and you want fresh eyes on the account, by all means assign it to another agent but only after you close it with the current agent. And be sure to give the new agent all the information your first agent found out.
Repossessing cars is a dangerous profession. It takes a lot of skill, a lot of drive and a lot of daring to do it right. We count on our clients to understand this and help us keep our agents as safe as possible by telling us everything about an account when they assign it (such as if the debtor has threatened violence, if they have a known criminal record, if someone else has worked the account previously and what happened) and not to double assign the account. By working together with our clients we can successfully resolve accounts and prevent tragedies like the Tommy Morris incident from occurring.