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 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 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 – 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. And with today’s new LPR1 technology, I’m seeing another form of double assigning coming into existence.
Here’s an example of something that happened to us twice in one week. We received an email from DRN2 informing us that a car we had recently scanned in an apartment was put into the National database of skip accounts out for repo. In the DRN system when an account is added to the database, the last company who scanned the vehicle is notified by email that the unit is now out for repo and if the unit is still there and scanned again, it can be called in and the order assigned. We sent out a truck to scan and repo the car (if it was still there). As the driver was pulling into the apartment complex, he saw another company towing that vehicle out of the apartment – they had just repoed it minutes before. In checking up on what happen, it was found that this lender (forwarding company actually) sent the assignment to their local agent and on the same day put the account in the DRN system.
In checking into this situation further, I found that several lenders assign accounts to their local agents and put them into an LPR system for repo on the same day. I can see the lenders’ thinking on this – the more people you have out looking for the unit, the better the chances of getting it repoed. But this is exactly the same thinking behind the practice of double assigning that was occurring in the ’90s. It’s dangerous and it has the potential of causing another Tommy Morris type incident.
In contrast, I have a client who will assign us an account and if we haven’t found it in a week, they put it into the LPR system. But this isn’t the same situation because, if we haven’t found the debtor in a week, then he’s not at any of the addresses the client has given us and is a bona fide skip. This is exactly the type of account that LPR systems are great at resolving.
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 further tragedies like the Tommy Morris incident from occurring.
1. License Plate Recognition – Cameras that read and record license plates and their location
2. Digital Recognition Network – The LPR service company that we are affiliated with
President,Capital Adjusters, Inc.
Past President, National Finance Adjusters
American Recovery Association
Recovery Specialist Insurance Group
California Assn of Licensed Repossessors
Certified Asset Recovery Specialist
Certified Recovery Agent
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Phone: 512-5-836-8030 Fax: 512-836-5379 Website: www.repoaustin.com PO Box 140111, Austin, TX 78714