What started as a quest to apprehend a stolen rental van has led San Francisco-based Bandango Van Rentals owner Sharky Laguana to enter the political sphere in an effort to change the laws that made it so difficult for him report, track down, and reclaim his stolen property.
In early February, Laguana said a woman signed a contract for a one-day van rental. The next day, a man, who Laguana said sounded to be under the influence, called asking to extend the rental by a month. Laguana informed him that the woman who signed the contract was the only one authorized to extend the rental period.
The woman never called, and the vehicle wasn’t returned.
“...this gentleman called several more times, and always trying to extend the rental for a month, always sounding like he was under the influence, and not necessarily terribly coherent,” he said.
Under California law, rental companies must wait five days after a car is due to report it as “embezzled.” Companies must also show proof that they sent a certified letter demanding the vehicle be returned.
After sending a letter that was undeliverable because the mailing address was a UPS store, Laguana said he knew the vehicle was stolen.
However, as he prepared to take all the necessary information to the San Francisco Police Department to report the vehicle embezzled, the stolen van pulled out in front of him on the expressway.
This is where the story gets crazy: I’m driving back from a dental appointment just before 5pm and notice I’m right behind one of our vans. Thinking they are returning I call the office to give them a heads up and holy shit it’s the stolen van! Here’s a pic I took while following pic.twitter.com/WisYoLsGFE— Sharky Laguana (@Sharkyl) February 9, 2018
What ensued was hours of following and staking the vehicle out as it stopped at various points throughout the city, first at a Korean restaurant and eventually a parked location in the Mission District.
During this time, Laguana and one of his employees (who declines to be mentioned by name), repeatedly tried to have a police escort join them so they could reclaim the vehicle.
“Our goal at that point was to have the police provide us an escort, and ask the people to exit the vehicle so that we could claim the vehicle and drive it home,” Laguana said. “We did not need, or at any point ever request that the police arrest the individuals. In fact, quite the opposite, I made it very clear that I was not wanting the occupants arrested, I just wanted to recover our vehicle.”
However, Laguana said SFPD stopped being interested in apprehending the vehicle once they were told it was "a rental.”
“As soon as they found out it was the rental car, they weren't interested in helping us anymore,” he said. “They said, ‘This is the SFPD, we're not going to chase your van all over the city.’ And I said, ‘Okay. Well, we're following, obeying all traffic rules, staying a safe distance, and I was hoping just that when it comes to a stop, maybe you guys could come out to us.’ ‘This is a civil matter; we're not going to help you.’"
Once the stolen van ended up in the Mission, the employee took his dog on a walk by the van to get a better look at who was inside. Laguana said at this point, a police officer pulled up next to him.
“So I get out of my car, I say, excuse me officer, can I borrow a minute of your time. This time I'm very upfront about it being a rental vehicle, because of what had happened previously. I didn't want to waste anybody's time,” Laguana said.
After going with the officer to the police station across the street and retelling the whole ordeal, the officer said that he couldn’t help until all the paper work was filled out and original copies of all supporting documents were filed. Laguana knew this could take hours and that the vehicle could very well be gone by the time they finished.
So, he took a risk and bluffed.
“So [my employee and I] walk up to the van, we ask them to roll down the window… And then I say, ‘… we're from Bandago, and this vehicle, I just reported it stolen at the police station right there,’ and I point across the street to where the police station is.”
Laguana said he didn’t want to press charges, only the van returned.
The presence of the police station was enough, and after about 15 minutes all occupants of the vehicle left.
After going home, Laguana took to Twitter to retell the whole ordeal and to express his frustration, not just with SFPD, but with the laws that made it so difficult to report and apprehend the van in the first place.
Now, Laguana said he is helping to write new legislation, with the help and support of the American Car Rental Association, which will make it easier for rental car companies to track and reclaim vehicles that are deemed stolen.
Happy to participate to solve this problem. Thank you for your advocacy.— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) February 12, 2018
Although the details and language of the legislations hasn’t been approved or finalized, Laguana said that he wants to focus on being able to immobilize vehicles that are considered embezzled — either though remote, GPS, ignition lock or a boot put on by the city.
Through his Twitter rant, Laguana received support from several California state senators and assemblymembers. He also recieved a lot of media attention, with several local news stations reaching out to tell the story.
In a statement from Assemblymember David Chiu’s office, the San Francisco representative said that this “is not how government should work.” The statement indicated Chiu will be working with colleagues to determine the appropriate next steps.
Laguana also said he had been in contact with SFPD’s media relations, which he called a “productive conversation.”
In a statement provided to ABC7News, SFPD said that the situation is being investigated internally.