Scrapped for Cash: Testing scrap yards to see if they follow new law

SUMTER COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Dirt marks the spot where Tywanna Govan's 1993 Buick LaSabre once sat.

"That was my first car I ever bought," she said. "And yes, my car's name was Fuddy Duddy, and they did not have the right to take Fuddy Duddy!"

Ignoring "No trespassing" signs, thieves backed in a wrecker on a Wednesday night in October and were gone. Four days later Govan realized Fuddy Duddy was missing and a day later, detectives got involved.

Neighbors saw it get taken and others spotted it in town.

"They saw it at the scrap yard," said Govan.

When detectives questioned the scrap yard, Govan's car was gone.

A week later, her aunt was targeted. This time, they found the car at a scrap yard, and according to Sumter Police, caught 22-year-old Justin Nelson using the paperwork he'd filled out to sell it.

"It should be more on the salvage yard that's accepting these cars," said Govan. "They should be more responsible, for that they should be liable for these cars."

In June, the legislature tightened the law. You must have the title for a vehicle under 12 years old to scrap it. Previously it was eight. The title must be in the scrapper's name.

"It prevents people from just hooking up to a junk car in someone yards and taking off with it and selling it for money." said Capt. Allen Daley with the Sumter County Sheriff's Department.

If you don't have a title, you can get a magistrate's order or sheriff's disposal authority certificate, which isn't easy.

"They came up here to get a certificate of disposal and we had no proof of where the bus came from, no affidavits of sale, nothing, no bill of sale," said Capt. Daley. "So the new owner of the bus was required to get a title in his name, then he disposed of it."

Vehicles older than 12 years also have requirements.

"Even if it's older than 12 years, if they don't have ownership information, they've got to sign an affidavit and provide the seller's information to the demolitions shop," said SC Senator Joel Lourie. "They have to maintain it on record."

Keeping it three days before its crushed and running the VIN with the DMV to ensure it's not stolen.

"By turning over their information, they're one, swearing under oath that the car's not stolen, and two, they're giving the demolisher their personal information," Lourie said. "That's how we believe we can go back and track down these thieves and bring them to justice."

WIS tried to sell a vehicle for scrap metal at an area scrap yard.  We didn't have a title, magistrate's order or sheriff's disposal authority certificate.  The owner of the scrap yard wouldn't accept the vehicle.

"I know someone who crushes them," said the manager, whom WIS is not identifying. "My competition. And they'd probably take them. But I'm serious if you do that transaction and that transaction gets identified, the chances are pretty low that it gets identified, and it gets identified where you unlawfully made a transaction against the new law, you're in trouble."

When reporters revealed who they are, they get the same explanation.

"It's just a title, you have to have a title, basically, it justified it on that year, on an '04 it has to be a title or 12 years older," said the manager.

So, WIS tried another scrap yard. They also cite the new law.

"They passed the law before Christmas where you've got to have the title, a bill of sale from the magistrate or something to say you own it," an employee explained.

When we questioned if there wasn't any way to do it without a magistrate's letter, or Sheriff's disposal letter, we were told it can be done if the serial was removed.

The owner tell us they aren't yet registered with the DMV to check a vehicle's VIN.

"We're right in the process of getting the computer hooked up where we can check," he said.

They call another demolisher to check and said, "If it's 12 years old, and once we get this cleared, we can buy it."

As long as we provide ID. We later tell them who we are. Once we've identified ourselves as WIS reporters, he said he wouldn't have accepted the vehicle.

"Because there's no proof it's theirs," he said.

When asked what he would do if he found out the car was stolen, he replied, "Then you have to call the law."

He tells us, because we were unwilling to give him our ID, it made us suspicious.

Running the scenario by law enforcement, they say even if we were willing to hand over our ID, the demolisher shouldn't take the vehicle because we didn't have one of the three certificates needed to sell our 9-year-old car.

"They would have been in violation of the new law which came out in December," said Daley. "Yes they would."

Authorities have been working with demolishers ensuring they understand the new law. The DMV has a users guide. Demolishers who haven't registered with the DMV to secure passwords, to check vehicle identification numbers, now are in violation of the law.

One yard actually had the requirements on laminated cards, in employees hands, and said classes were held for all employees.

Tywanna Govan hopes the changes protect the next person.

"I hope they do the right things by going by the law," she said. "But there's going to be a lot of crooked hands that just want to make that profit."

If all the regulations are followed, the new law works. We're told of at least one instance in the last month where a stolen car exchanged hands, but the three-day waiting period allowed it to be caught before it was crushed.

In Richland County, for five months last year, more than a hundred vehicles were stolen.

We picked a random month, June, and checked with three counties: In Sumter they had nine auto thefts, in Lexington there were 37, and in Richland there were 94.

We compared those number to December when this new law started to be enforced. In Richland County thefts fell to 75. In Lexington County it stayed the same at 37 thefts, and in Sumter the number of thefts skyrocketed to 20.

With the law now firmly in place, Richland County's thefts fell to 49 and Sumter's to 10 for the month of January. Over 1,100 stolen cars in Richland County and 168 in Sumter last year.

The penalties for scrap yards and demolishers, and individuals selling cars who don't follow the law:

  • First offense is a misdemeanor with fines up to $500 for each offense and not more than 60 days in jail, or both.
  • For a second time offender it becomes a felony, and the fines increase to $1,000.
  • A person who falsifies information on an application or affidavit is guilty of a felony and can be fined $1,000. In lieu of criminal penalties, the DMV can issue an administrative fine against demolishers or secondary metals recyclers who violate the law.

Law enforcers and legislators say only time will tell if the changes make a difference. Both will be watching the numbers closely.

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