FOX 8 Investigates: Hidden in Plain Sight

The owner of a large diesel pickup truck that was stolen and involved in a destructive hit and run in September 2011 says New Orleans Police took seven months to tell him what happened to his truck.

"He was going between 50 and 60 miles an hour without a doubt.  As loud as he hit the vehicles and that.. He was moving," said John Starr who remembers well what happened outside his Bywater neighborhood home last September. "At four o'clock in the morning we heard a crash coming down the street. You know it sounded like a train derailment," said Starr.

The driver of a Ford, F-350 dually truck slammed into five vehicles on North Rampart St. and the front porch of a house, then fled the scene. The New Orleans Police Department crash report shows the one-ton vehicle first hit Starr's Ford F-150 truck. Then it crashed into a Honda Accord, a Honda Civic, a Toyota Yaris and a Dodge Van.

The investigating NOPD officer's report stated he "checked the license plate" of the F-350.  The officer's narrative also mentioned, "the vehicle was not listed stolen.. and the key was located in the ignition."  The hit and run accident happened around 4 a.m. Saturday, September 17th, 2011.

"I came out that Saturday morning you know looked around, and noticed that you know, where's my truck?  It's normally parked right there," said Amadeo Guerra. Around 7 a.m. Guerra called police and reported his truck stolen from outside his Canal St. Home. "We're talking about a 2000 Ford, F-350 dually, four-door. You know, one ton vehicle with a diesel engine in it," explained Guerra. That was the same type of truck involved in that early morning hit and run.

Over the next couple of weeks, Guerra said he called police several times, trying to check on his stolen truck. "There was a lot of kind of reception games.. oh he's not in right now.. he's in a meeting or oh, they switched him to the night shift.. he's retiring, he's going to another department.  These are the kinds of answers I got you know, and it just adds to the confusion," said Guerra.

It wasn't until weeks after he reported the auto theft that Guerra said he learned his truck was involved in an accident. "I started getting calls from insurance companies of the vehicles involved in the accident.. $10,000 here.. $12,000 there you know you owe us," said Guerra. It was the insurance companies that gave him information that revealed his truck was the truck that caused the destructive hit and run.

Exactly a month after his truck was stolen and involved in a hit and run, Guerra received a letter from a towing and storage yard in New Orleans East. The letter, Guerra's first notice, listed outstanding charges of $613 for the tow and daily storage fees.

"My thing is why did it take so long for you to get to me? You know the police ride around with all this electrical equipment in their car. They can find out.. run your license plate and your license and your insurance and everything else. Why would it take 30 days to find out who the owner is?" said Guerra.

A request to tow the vehicle and store it shows the tow company that was dispatched had the truck's VIN number, and Guerra's name and address the morning the accident happened, but Louisiana law for motor vehicles and traffic regulation says the tow company has three business days from the date the vehicle's been stored to report it to the Office of Motor Vehicles. Once the OMV turns over the most current owner information to the tow company, the tow company then has 10 days to alert the vehicle owner. What's not spelled out is how long the OMV has to get the info back to the tow company. In fact, the law says, "no tow truck owner shall be liable.. when the department fails to provide the information requested in a timely manner."

While it appears the tow company followed the rules, Guerra said he couldn't afford those initial charges.

The big question surrounding this case is whether police even tried to track down Amadeo Guerra. Remember the police report states that his truck was found at the scene, and at the time it wasn't reported stolen, and the key was found in the ignition.

"A police officer never came to talk to me to see if I was the one involved," said Guerra. "I have a signed paper right here.  The police officer who was on duty, his badge number and the towing operator.. the towing vehicle that came to pick up my truck.. it was signed at 4:17 a.m.  Most importantly it has my full name and address on the paper so it proves he knew who I was, where I lived.. before I even knew the truck was stolen, and that's my issue," said Guerra.  He told FOX 8 the first time he heard from the NOPD was a month ago. According to Guerra, that means it took the NOPD six months to notify him.

"I could have known in hours where it was at and got it taken care of and all handled and all paid for and to the vehicle back in one day," said Guerra.

To this day, Guerra still doesn't have his truck. He said the tow and storage costs that were $613 are now $4,000, and a worker at Eveque's Towing tells FOX 8, the tow company now owns the truck.

"I felt more victimized not by the people who stole it, but by the whole process of you know trying to locate the vehicle.. dealing with the NOPD," said Guerra.

An NOPD spokesperson tells FOX 8, protocol is to try to track down the owner of a vehicle involved in a hit and run as soon as possible. The police department has not told us whether that was done in Guerra's case. Instead, NOPD Director of Public Affairs Remi Braden said "one of our tow and recovery detectives has reached out to Mr. Guerra and spoken with him several times on the phone, as well as asked him to stop in last week so they could discuss the situation in person. As a result, the department has initiated an investigation into Mr. Guerra's case."