Southern California

Woman Finds Own Stolen Truck on Google Street View After Police Error

It was a paperwork blunder that cost two Southern California citizens tens of thousands of dollars.

Not a mistake of their own, but one made by their police department.

Kerry Kirchenberg reported her Toyota truck missing in the fall of 2011 when she lived in Porterville, north of Bakersfield.

"It only had 30,000 miles on it," Kirchenberg said.

She said the Porterville Police Department wrote up her stolen vehicle report, which would have flagged the vehicle with the Department of Motor Vehicles and prevented it from being re-registered. But five years later, she wondered why she'd never heard anything back from police.

Speaking with police departments to try to track down her own truck, she uncovered the problem. Porterville Police told her there was a problem.

"The words out of her mouth were just shocking," Kirchenberg said. "The vehicle had never been reported stolen."

Kirchenberg talked about what went through her mind.

"I'm not going to stop," Kirchenberg said. "I'm going to find that truck."

The problem, Kirchenberg learned from documents the Porterville Police Department provided her, was that police entered her truck's title number in the "Vehicle Identification Number" box.

The mistake triggered an alert in Porterville's system, reading "VIN does not meet manufacturer's specifications." But that mistake was never corrected. Kirchenberg's truck was sold multiple times over the next several years while she was left to purchase a new car on her own, without any insurance payout for her loss.

Documents indicate police would have found Kirchenberg's truck just days after it was stolen had the VIN been entered properly. Within a week, Santa Ana Police stopped a woman with a history of car theft driving Kirchenberg's truck.

"The car came back clean," Kirchenberg said.

The truck was impounded at a tow yard and eventually sold at auction. Then, in 2013, the car was sold again -- this time to Daniel Ganoe of Huntington Beach, who said he paid $8,000 for it.

It was Ganoe's address that Kirchenberg eventually found that led her back to her truck -- something law enforcement didn't do. Spotting the vehicle on Google's Street View in Ganoe's driveway, she grabbed her spare key fob she'd kept for five years and headed to Huntington Beach.

On the way, Kirchenberg called Huntington Beach Police to tell them she planned to take back the car that was stolen from her. Huntington Beach Police agreed to meet her there, where they seized the vehicle to give back to Kirchenberg.

"My remote unlocked the truck, and I knew it was mine," Kirchenberg said.

It came as a surprise for Ganoe -- an understandably unwelcome one.

"When the police showed up at my doorstep, telling me they were gonna take it," was the first time he was told the truck was stolen, Ganoe said.

After several transfers of Kirchenberg's stolen truck, Ganoe was out that thousandsof dollars he said he paid for it.

"My insurance company denied me because they're saying if it's a legal seizure then I'm out," he said. "This all boils down to a paperwork error and that seems that seems to me like a pretty big mistake."

For Kirchenberg the reunion with her old truck was bittersweet. The truck now has obvious signs of wear and more than 100,000 miles on the odometer -- far from the vehicle Kirchenberg said she would have received had Porterville police fixed the error after their system flagged it.

Porterville Police Chief Eric Kroutil failed to return repeated calls and messages left for this story. A spokesperson for the department told NBC4 "We're not going to comment."

NBC4 repeatedly contacted Porterville's Mayor, Milt Stowe by phone and email. He and fellow city council members Cameron Hamilton, Brian Ward, Virginia Gurrola and A. Monte Reyes failed to respond to repeated requests for comment.

Now living in Lake Elsinore, Kirchenberg has driven to Porterville at least twice to speak with city officials, including once at a city council meeting.

The Council promised to look into her case more, but has since denied her claim.

Porterville's City Attorney did not return any calls, but her office told the I-Team it would not comment due to "the threat of litigation."

The I-Team reached out to Porterville City Council members for comment again today, but did not receive a response.

Kirchenberg isn't sure whether she will sue, but without any other recourse is now considering the option.

Kirchenberg was asked who she was more upset with: the person who stole the truck, or the police department.

"Porterville Police Department," she said.

To date Porterville has accepted no financial responsibility for its reporting error.

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