MATTHEWS, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - FOX 46 is getting results for a Charlotte firefighter after he says a Matthews, N.C. auto body shop held his truck hostage for more than two months.
Jeff Phifer, a firefighter for 27 years with the Charlotte Fire Department, has recently had to walk or beg for rides to get to and from work.
"I had to call and ask people to come and get me," said Phifer. "Which I try not to abuse my friends and family. They didn't mind but I felt bad."
"I don't mind because he's my brother," his sister said one morning after leaving work to pick him up. "It's just...he shouldn't have to go through that."
The reason has to to with Uptown Collision, an auto repair shop that has been in business less than a year.
Phifer dropped off his Ford F-150 for repairs in November 2017. The shop, using accident records, contacted him and said they could fix his car "between seven and 10 days," Phifer said.
Uptown Collision cashed an insurance check for $5,105, records show. More than two months later, FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant found Phifer's white truck still sitting at the shop with no work appearing to have been done.
"Just fix my truck," said Phifer. "That's all most people want when you take it to a collision place. And especially when your insurance has paid for it."
To make matters worse, Phifer says Uptown Collision promised to pay for his rental car but then backed out leaving him with a nearly $1,500 bill.
"I'm very frustrated," said Phifer, who has to share a car with his wife. "The family's very frustrated."
Phifer is also a Boy Scout leader and makes bicycles for kids. With his phone calls going unreturned, he turned to FOX 46 for help.
It turns out Uptown Collision isn't registered with the state or county. Online reviews complain of work taking "forever" and phone calls not being returned. Despite a sign advertising a phone number with a mission of "repairing your car one part at a time," that number is disconnected.
FOX 46 witnessed dozens of cars that were not being worked on. Inside, an employee says the owner, Jafar Saniri, took money for orders and then took off.
"What happened to him?," asked reporter Matt Grant.
"Your guess is better than mine. He stopped coming around," the employee said. "I'm stuck out of a lot of money as well."
He says Phifer isn't alone.
"I couldn't tell you how many," the employee said when asked how many cars are not being worked on. "But it's quite a bit."
FOX 46 tried to track down Saniri. In a text, Saniri said he is "waiting for two more parts to come in" and said the car "will be done" in a few days.
When that didn't happen Saniri responded to questions sent by text by saying: "I'll have my lawyer contact you."
No lawyer ever contacted FOX 46 and Saniri stopped responding despite multiple, repeated attempts to get a response including going to his last known address Charlotte without any luck.
With no response, FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant started making phone calls and got results.
Caliber Collision in Charlotte offered to repair Phifer's truck for free. The rental car company, which did not wish to be named, agreed to waive his $1,500 bill and give Phifer another rental car, for free, while his truck is being repaired.
"Thank you very much Matt," said Phifer, when told by phone about the news, "Thank you. That means a great deal to me."
FOX 46 took Phifer to get his keys and his truck from Uptown Collision. After driving it off the property, it was loaded onto a waiting tow truck.
"It was a no brainer," said Brandon Hawkins, the vice president of operations for Caliber Collision.
Hawkins says when he learned about Phifer's problem from FOX 46 he wanted to fix his truck for free.
"One of our core values is to do the right thing and Mr. Phifer always does the right thing. So stepping in and restoring the rhythm of his life was definitely something we wanted to pitch in and do."
Phifer filed a complaint with Matthews police. Officers have now opened an investigation into Uptown Collision.
"It's something we're concerned about," said public information officer Tim Aycock.
Phifer, now in a rental car, can go back to worrying about more important things, like saving lives.
"You were an angel to me and my family," said Phifer. "Because you went above and beyond to make sure things be right and go right for me. And I truly am blessed and I thank you."
Have you been a victim of Uptown Collision? We want to hear from you. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org