Michael Farron Brown, Inmate #GDC ID: 1000280128, wakes up every morning now as a resident of the Dooly State Prison, which predominately houses convicted sex offenders, in Unadilla, Georgia. Convicted of vehicular homicide and criminal damage, he will remain a guest of the State of Georgia at least until 04/13/2029 for his actions during a repossession in April of 2009. With certainty, he thinks everyday about his actions that night that left a man dead, a man affectionately known as “Santa” locally, and he and his wife the subject of a massive manhunt.
An account of that evening is as follows:
A repo company dispatched Michael Faron Brown, a 27-year-old South Carolina newlywed, on a rare trip across state lines into Georgia to return a few cars to debtors who were back in their lenders’ good graces. Brown worked on contract for a subsidiary of a national repossession company called Renovo Services LLC, and his boss asked him to also handle a few repossessions for a colleague who had bailed on his assignments. That’s how Brown picked up the account for Lidie “Joe” Clements.
Clements, a paint contractor near Augusta, Ga., was having a hard time finding jobs due to the sour economy, so he’d fallen behind on the payments for his Ram. He tried to work out a payment plan with his lender, Nuvell National Auto Finance, then a subsidiary of the massive home and auto lender GMAC. According to trial court records, once it became clear that Clements couldn’t make good on his bills, he told Nuvell that he would voluntarily surrender his truck, which, as is custom, would likely be sold or auctioned off to cut Nuvell’s losses. Brown apparently showed up at Clements’ home a day early for the scheduled repo — with his pregnant wife, Victoria, in the passenger seat of the tow truck. According to court records, once they were outside Clements’ house, the newlyweds called him on their cellphone. The conversation quickly turned combative. Clements said he wasn’t home and demanded they not take his truck until the following day, once he’d had a chance to clear out his belongings. But Brown didn’t leave.
Under the aggressive incentives that many financial institutions and their repo contractors now force on agents, industry veterans say a repo man like Brown would have been eager to get the truck right then and there. In a system that’s fast becoming industry standard, Brown was working on a flat-rate contingency basis: If he didn’t repossess the vehicle, then nobody owed him a dime for his efforts. If he waited until the following day, he’d be sinking more time and gas money into the assignment.
In the topsy-turvy repo world, it was also in Brown’s financial interests to have a reluctant target. According to his payment plan, Brown was earning $70 for each involuntary repo he completed and a mere $30 for each voluntary one. If Clements was no longer surrendering his truck by choice, then Brown stood to earn more money.
According to the version he later told in court, Brown called his office seeking advice. The woman handling the Clements account told him to proceed, he testified. “If you see the unit, get it,” she allegedly told Brown.
It didn’t matter that a friend of the Clements’ had parked her van in the driveway behind the pickup, blocking it in almost entirely. As Brown would later say in court, “I was always up for a challenge.” So he backed his truck into the Clements’ driveway, maneuvering his tow in the narrow space between the van and the house.
Joe Clements and his friend Bill Jacobs returned to the house just as Brown was trying to drive off with the pickup. According to Clements’ version, Brown clipped the van repeatedly as he tried to thread the pickup between the van and the house. The van belonged to Jacobs and his wife, Pamela, who had been inside the house with Clements’ wife, Cindy. Joe Clements would later tell police that he pleaded with Brown to stop damaging the van — he was giving the truck up voluntarily, he said, and he just wanted to remove his tools first.
“Stop! You’re hitting the van! Stop! We’ll give it to you!” he allegedly said, according to court records.
Brown dropped the pickup from the tow. Bill Jacobs confronted him on the driver’s side of the tow truck, while Cindy Clements confronted Victoria Brown on the passenger side, according to court documents. Brown later claimed Jacobs was acting overtly hostile. Whatever the case, Jacobs was knocked to the ground during the commotion, falling in front of the tow truck.
Brown drove over Jacobs, through the yard and down the street. Brown would later say he never meant to run over Jacobs, that it was all an accident.
“Them tires don’t have a conscience,” he said in court.
When Pamela Jacobs came outside, her husband was lying in the street; she lay down with him. His pelvis and abdomen had been crushed by the truck tires, according to a doctor who later examined him. His ribcage had been fractured, his broken ribs puncturing his lungs. His chest and bowels were filling with blood. The 64-year-old would be pronounced dead an hour later.
As Jacobs lay dying, Michael and Victoria Brown fled the area. It isn’t clear whether the repo man knew he’d just killed someone — although it wasn’t long before the gravity of the situation set in, and the Browns realized they were fugitives. The following day, they wrote on the wall of their joint MySpace account, “ready to stop repoing. When you have to worry about criminal charges … I say that is enough!”
“Stressing the f**k out,” they wrote a short time later. “Why did we have to go to GA to repo yesterday?”
Wanted for murder, the Browns turned themselves in to the police five days later.
He was eventually sentenced to 20 years, while his wife Victoria received 2 years. Mr. Jacobs’ widow received $2.5 Million in a wrongful death lawsuit. While I am very certain that the Brown’s did not start their day with the intention of the day ending this way, this event should stand as a constant reminder that just about anything can and will happen. Inexperience and lack of training, as proven, can lead to a very dangerous situation.