I've never been a big fan of Russian literature, with its apparent affection for depression and its signature pattern of cascading one disaster upon another.
However, Tucsonan Larry Prior, with what he's gone through in recent years, would probably find Dostoevsky to be light summer fare.
Larry's always worked with his hands. He'd do construction and fix cars on the side; he was a handy guy to have around. Nice guy, too.
Back in 2003, he was working as a construction inspector contracted by the city of Tucson. He was in an auto accident and injured his lower back. In 2004, he decided to buy a new truck, a big Dodge Ram, that he could use to haul things and perform a variety of odd jobs. Even though he was on worker's comp at the time, Pima Federal Credit Union approved the loan, which called for the swallow-hard payments of around $825 a month for 72 months. Included in the contract was disability insurance that would make his payments if he couldn't work for a time.
In 2005, a doctor told him that he needed spinal-fusion surgery. That same doctor said that Larry was suffering from a degenerative condition and claimed that the accident in 2003 may have exacerbated that situation, but was not the major cause of his disability. Worker's comp stopped paying him. He admits that he missed a few payments while going through the medical procedures and getting the other insurance, from CUNA, to kick in.
According to Larry, CUNA not only started making his payments; the company also said that it would go back and make the ones that he had missed. All the while, he says, the people at Pima Federal were cool.
In 2007, after returning to work, he dislocated his shoulder. Again, CUNA stepped in and made his payments. He couldn't work until late 2008. Then, on Dec. 13, 2008, he was in his truck in a left-turn lane when somebody ran a red light and T-boned his truck. The collision re-injured his shoulder, cracked some ribs and broke his right hand.
Then things got really bad. In September 2009, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 terminal cancer. CUNA continued making the payments on his truck, so at least he didn't have that to worry about. He began treatment for the cancer and hoped for the best.
The last payment on the truck was supposed to be in October 2010. But in November, someone at the Credit Union called and told him that he owed $667. In between chemotherapy treatments, Larry tried to figure out what was going on with the truck. CUNA said that since the contract was up at the end of October, they had fulfilled their contractual obligations and were out.
Larry also told the Credit Union folks that he had started receiving Social Security disability payments due to his cancer, and he wanted to know if they could set up some kind of payment plan, based on what he was receiving, to finish paying off the truck. In early December, he received a letter—dated Dec. 1—stating that he owed more than $1,400 and that he had 10 days to pay it if he wanted to keep his truck.
He had a chemo treatment on Thursday, Dec. 9, and, understandably, felt too sick to go in the next day. On Monday, Dec. 13, he went to the credit union office near Palo Verde and Irvington roads and was told that he had to pay the $1,400 plus back payments—of which he claims he was completely unaware—before he could see a loan officer. (Why he would need to see a loan officer after he paid off the truck is anybody's guess.)
He waited in the lobby for what seemed a long time and was then ushered into a room to meet with a collections manager. That guy told him that he owed thousands of dollars on the truck, not just the $1,400.
"My head was spinning," Larry recalls. "He kept giving me different numbers as to what they said I owed. It started at $667, then it was $1,400, and then he said $11,000. I told him I wanted to see it written down, and he said it would take a while to get the paperwork. He kept stalling me, and then finally he said that I could talk to ... the Stone office. He gave me the phone number, and I left."
When he walked outside, his truck was gone. They had repossessed it while the collections guy was doing his number. "They completely set me up."
This is not to suggest that the credit union's action wasn't legal. (Credit union officials could not offer specific responses, citing confidentiality restrictions.) Even Larry thinks they did things by their book. "Y'know, I would have understood if they had taken the truck years ago when I was hurt and worker's comp stopped paying. But it makes no sense to take it now."
Larry's hanging in as best he can. He tried to buy his truck back at auction, but fell short. He doesn't know how much longer he's got. He's gone through the Russian-literature phase of his life. What's left is more like a country-Western tune. We'll call it "Bummin' Rides to Chemo."