Johnny Pitts said his frustration regarding half of a mobile home left on his property after a wind storm pushed it off a truck in September is growing. He has spent weeks trying to get someone to take responsibility for the wreckage. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)
VALE – The tattered, broken half of a double-wide mobile home sits just off U.S. Highway 20 on Johnny Pitts’ field between Vale and Ontario.
A 30-yard wide debris field of tiny pieces of pink insulation spreads out from the shattered the mobile home. Portions of the roof are caved in. Other pieces of the home stand up against the side of the structure, placed there by Pitts during his regular visits to clean up the mess.
Pitts doesn’t own the structure.
In fact, he’d never seen the home until September when a 50 mph wind gust blew it off a truck into his field at the top of Trenkel Hill.
He knows one thing, though.
He wants it off his property.
His quest to remove the wreckage so far has proven to be a challenge.
Two months after it landed on his property – just beyond the state Transportation Department right-of-way – the hulk still sits where it landed.
The owners of the mobile home section – Del Rio Properties LLC. in Jerome, Idaho – won’t return Pitts’ calls.
The owner of the trucking company that hauled the mobile home — Delbert Montgomery of DMJ Trucking in Bend — told the Enterprise last week he believed the owner of the mobile home is “taking care” of removing the structure.
Firmly in the middle is Pitts, who grew so frustrated he eventually contacted the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office.
“Everyone wants to point fingers at the other guy and no one wants to take responsibly for it,” said Brian Wolfe, Malheur County sheriff.
Wolfe said finding a resolution is “a slow process.”
“The people that were hauling it are not being responsible,” said Wolfe.
Pitts said the mobile home saga “hasn’t been fun.”
“It’s been a nuisance to people driving by and a nuisance to me to keep the insulation from blowing around,” said Pitts.
In the end, the taxpayers of Malheur County may have to pay for the mobile home to be removed.
If so, Wolfe said the sheriff office will “exhaust all possibilities” to ensure the county is compensated.
The wind delivers a surprise.
Strong gusts began to blow around Vale the afternoon of Sept. 18. About a mile west of Pitts’ home at 987 U.S. Highway 20-26, an employee of DMJ Trucking hopped behind the wheel of a truck with the mobile home on a trailer and began to drive toward Ontario, said Montgomery.
Two days before, the truck stopped at the state Transportation Department scales outside of Vale and was put out of service because the driver didn’t have a driver’s license and no permit to haul the mobile home, according to the Oregon State Police.
And DMJ Trucking, which also lists a California address, didn’t have operating authority from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or the state Motor Carrier Division, the agencies reported. The federal agency said the company’s application, filed in April under the name Delbert L. Montgomery Jr. was dismissed in June “due to the carrier not filing proof of insurance.”
Why the driver – whom Montgomery called “Mike” – decided to head back out on the road as high wind gusts blew remains a mystery.
Pitts said he heard the crash inside his house.
“I went outside. I saw the thing go right over,” said Pitts.
Pitts said he immediately walked over to the wreck.
“I asked for information (from the driver). I was told they’d take care of it under the radar and not to turn it into insurance. They promised me they would pay for any damage, that everything was going to be OK,” said Pitts.
Pitts said he talked to Montgomery soon after the September wreck and that Montgomery said “he would have it out that week.”
Montgomery said in an initial interview that the driver wasn’t supposed to drive the truck and trailer anywhere.
“I told my guy to go up there and get my truck, disconnect the house and leave it there at the scale house. The winds were too high. The owners of the home, which live in Idaho, didn’t have the permit yet for it to be moved from Vale. So, it wasn’t supposed to be moved,” said Montgomery.
Montgomery said he does not know why the driver he hired drove toward Ontario in a wind storm.
“The driver decided ‘I am going to do what I am want to do.’ That was the outcome of it,” said Montgomery.
Montgomery said his driver “handed the homeowner our insurance and then said ‘I am out of here.’”
Montgomery said he tried to contact his driver the next day.
“I called him and went to his house. He disappeared,” said Montgomery.
Montgomery said Monday that his trucks are “registered and insured.” Montgomery said “the trucks always had insurance, it was just the waiting period. Sometimes it takes a couple of months.”
Montgomery also warned an Enterprise reporter not to print his company’s name.
“Our company lawyer, he gave me legal advice that once I ask you guys not to put our company name in the newspaper that you can’t do that. I am not authorizing you to do that,” said Montgomery Monday morning.
The Enterprise attempted to contact Del Rio Properties last week. A woman answered and then a man said hello. The call disconnected when an Enterprise reporter identified himself.
Pitts said about two weeks after the crash, he reached out to Montgomery.
Pitts said Montgomery said no crane company would move the mobile home because it would fall apart. Pitts said Montgomery suggested he reach out to Del Rio Properties.
“I talked to the home owner and they told me they paid those people $10,000 to move the trailer and only got half of it. Now they are out $10,000 and will try to sue the trucking company,” said Pitts.
Pitts said he tried to reason with the owners of the mobile home.
“I told them, ‘Look, I understand you have to sue the company, but I need that trailer off of my property,’” said Pitts.
Pitts said officials from Del Rio Properties told him “not to touch it and they needed a lawyer.”
“I haven’t talked to them since. I’ve reached out multiple times,” said Pitts.
The wreckage isn’t the only item that upset Pitts. He said the crash busted four of his irrigation pipes.
“Where I messed up is I didn’t call the police,” said Pitts.
Wolfe feels Pitts’ frustration. He assigned a deputy and a sergeant to look into the case.
“There are a couple of other things I’d prefer we use our resources on rather than this,” said Wolfe.
Pitts said the county may try to remove the wreckage as a public nuisance.
Until that time, though, he must be content with a rusting hulk in a field next to his house.
Pitts who moved from California to Idaho and then Malheur County “because he didn’t like California’s politics” said he is trying to turn his ground into a farm.
“But the pandemic has slowed it down. And now this,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
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