Man’s car squashed like a bug |

Man’s car squashed like a bug

Michael Schneider

Andre Wiktor is a local.

He’s lived here 20 years, working at Heavenly Ski Resort.

Wiktor loves cars. His prized possession was an orange 1974 Volkswagen Superbeetle, which he had owned since 1983. His friends said he spent much of his free time working on the vehicle. It was far from an eyesore, sporting a nearly new engine, new tires, and a new battery and shocks.

Born in Poland, Wiktor hadn’t been back to his roots in seven years, so this past spring he decided to visit his aging mother there.

Wiktor left April 28 for Poland. He left the vehicle, registered in California, in the driveway of his Old Bijou Pines residence.

Wiktor returned to South Lake Tahoe on June 26. Friends joked they hoped his house was still there.

It was. His beetle wasn’t.

Tim Donley runs the city’s vehicle abatement program. He started the program almost 10 years ago.

His job is to find vehicles that either aren’t registered by more than six months or are inoperable. Donley is then charged with getting them off city streets and private property when deemed an eyesore.

An unregistered and inoperable vehicle can remain with its owner only if it is kept in a garage, a carport, or inside a solid 6-foot-high fence, according to Donley.

Donley got a call May 18 from a woman living in Wiktor’s neighborhood. The woman told Donley she looked out her window and saw an orange Volkswagen sitting in a vacant lot with its doors wide open.

Donley said the woman first suspected Wiktor’s car was stolen and called the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. When officers determined there was no record of a vehicle theft, they recommended she call Donley.

Donley inspected the bug and found not only the doors wide open, but also dashboard wires pulled out, as if someone attempted to hot-wire the car. He also said the battery was missing.

Donley tagged the car for removal, an act which sets the city’s policy into motion.

Eleven days after the car was tagged, and after a letter had been sent to Wiktor’s local address, the bug was towed.

Emerald Bay Towing took the car from the vacant lot at Donley’s request May 30.

Donley said it was after the car was towed that Wiktor’s friends blew a chance to get it back.

According to Donley, he was contacted by Wiktor’s friends after the bug was towed.

Both Wiktor and Donley said they suspect the car was taken from Wiktor’s property by a friend wishing to drive the car.

In fact, Donley said Wiktor removed the car’s battery suspecting a friend might try to take the car for a joyride.

Donley said he tried to help Wiktor by bending the rules to allow for a friend of Wiktor’s to pick up the car. He said he even agreed to waive the city’s $100 fee and give the vehicle back with only tow company fees of $245.

Wiktor’s friends squandered this opportunity for a comparatively simple solution, according to Donley.

“They could have done a lot of stuff, but they did nothing,” Donley said.

On June 11, the bug was taken to Pick-N-Pull Auto Wreckers in Sparks where it was demolished. Wiktor said it is now in a heap at the Sparks wrecking yard. Although a verifiable business, Pick-N-Pull does not have a phone number listed with Nevada Bell.

Ken Dutra, manager of Emerald Bay Towing said he’s not the bad guy in this story.

“His beef is with the city,” Dutra said. “We’re contracted though the city’s abatement program.”

Dutra said that after a vehicle is towed by his company, the owner has five days to claim it before it is sold for scraps. He said he held the vehicle for an extra six days because he could sympathize with Wiktor’s plight.

Donley said once a vehicle is tagged with a demolition order, it must be destroyed by law. The wrecking yard cannot even keep the vehicle or sell it regardless of the condition.

Dutra did, however, contradict Wiktor’s assertion that the bug was in good condition.

“The car was run down. People think this is a (expletive) game,” Dutra said. “Most of these people rip up their tags. The city issued a 104 (junk certificate) and we towed it.”

Donley said he didn’t recall the condition of the vehicle except what he wrote in his notes about the vehicle’s lack of battery and pulled dash wires.

City Council Member Tom Davis said, after hearing Wiktor’s story, the practices of dealing abandoned vehicles may have to be revisited by the council.

Donley said the policy works the way it is.

“It’s just a fluke,” he said. “It’s ironic though. Andre foresaw his friend taking the car for a joyride and took out the battery.”

As of now, Wiktor is down one much-loved Superbeetle, the value of which he estimated at between $2,000 and $2,500, with no compensation to show for it.

Donley said he will not consider reimbursing Wiktor for the lost car.

“It’s hard luck. I feel bad, but he had options,” Donley said, saying the city has never lost a legal case regarding vehicle abatement.

“It’s grand theft,” said Larry Nufer, Wiktor’s friend who said he tried to get the car from Emerald Bay before it went to Sparks, but was unable. “They can say whatever they want, but it’s grand theft robbery done through the legal system.

“The city made money from selling Andre’s car.”

Donley said the city does not make money from the vehicle abatement program. He said the program is funded by each individual who registers a car in El Dorado County. This year Donley said the program received about $60,000 in county funds, enough to pay salaries and cover operating costs, he said.

Wiktor said he’s been in contact with a local attorney and the city has not heard the last from him.

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