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13 Investigates: U-Haul customer jailed over company's mistake

Posted at 2:09 PM, Jun 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-09 16:02:19-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The rumble of a U-Haul truck should have been the sound of a fresh start for Nickalaus Close and his girlfriend Sarah.

"My hopes were high," said Nick. "I got a good job with my brother at a fab shop. We were making honey extractors. And Sarah had an opportunity to be a real estate agent with my brother's wife. And things were looking up...and then we rented a U-Haul."

In the final stages of relocating to southern Utah, the couple rented a U-Haul in St. George to spend Christmas in Las Vegas with Sarah's family.

"I was excited to come down," said Nick. "I had presents for everybody."

Nick, who was driving with Sarah's father, stopped at a 7-Eleven to gas up the truck on their way to Christmas dinner.

"I was waiting at the dinner table, calling them over and over and over again, and they were not picking up," said Sarah. "And nobody knew what happened to them."

After a few hours, "I got a phone call from Nick from jail saying that he was pulled over for stolen plates on a U-Haul that we just rented," she said.

Unbeknownst to Nick, the license plate on the truck didn't match the one on his contract.

"You wouldn't think something like this would happen," said Paul Matt, Sarah's father. "How could this be a fictitious plate?"

Henderson Police spotted the truck, ran the plate, and saw that it came up stolen. Nick and Paul were immediate suspects.

"They pulled me out with guns drawn and they put me in handcuffs, threw me in the back of the car," said Nick.

"They pulled me right out of the store in front of all the people, like I was robbing the place or something," said Paul. "I was like, 'what? What did I do? What's wrong?'"

Police records show the two men were arrested and charged with displaying a fictitious plate.

"I just couldn't believe my ears when they were telling me they gave me a stolen plate," said Nick, who ended up pleading "no contest" in court.

"Why plead no contest to something you know you didn't do?" asked 13 chief investigator Darcy Spears.

"Because I wanted to get out and get back to work, but it just was already too late," Nick said.

Attorney Michael Van called it the "wrong place, wrong time, perfect storm."

This isn't the type of case Van would normally take, but when Sarah and Nick walked into his office and told their story, he say "it just seemed so weird, so odd, and they were so destitute. He had lost his job, and as he laid out all the documents, I was looking at it and going, 'this is just unbelievable!'"

As Nick and Sarah sought answers, they recorded their visit to the U-Haul office on Decatur and Oakey boulevards, where the truck was taken after police impounded it.

"We're just trying to piece it all together here, why this happened," Sarah tells an employee.

Nick asks, "Has this ever happened to you guys before?"

"I've only had it happen once, and I've been here three-and-a-half years," the employee answers.

Nick asks why police would've run the plate to begin with, and the employee responds, "Here, they run all the U-Haul plates just to make sure they're on good contracts because U-Hauls do get stolen."

Going over the timeline, Sarah notes the U-Haul was dropped off at the St. George location at 11 a.m. and, "they had from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. when we picked it up and rented it to do an inspection. And they didn't!"

It wasn't just that day that things fell through the cracks.

"The contract (from the customer before Nick and Sarah) shows that it came in from somewhere in Colorado," Van, the attorney, explained.

According to the police report, the plates had been reported stolen in California back in July of 2020 — almost a year and a half before the truck was rented to Nick and Sarah.

Sarah believes "this is pure... just negligence."

The police report says the license plate on their U-Haul box truck was supposed to be on a U-Haul Ford F-150 pickup.

"It's a little bit scary that this could happen to anyone who rents a U-Haul, for a move or otherwise," Spears pointed out.

"It's real scary," said Van. "If they're not careful on their end, you could be driving a vehicle that's improperly licensed. And how would you ever know?"

There's something else Nick and Sarah don't know: What happened to some of their belongings that were in the back of the truck?

"There was a special plant I had in there," said Sarah. "That was the most important thing."

The plant contained her mother's ashes.

"I have no idea what happened to my mother," she said.

Sarah says she also lost personal financial records. Her Social Security number was compromised, and so was her bank account, which she says was closed due to suspicious activity.

In U-Haul's settlement offer to Nick, the company admits the wrong plate was on the truck, apologizes for the "unfortunate incident" and makes an initial offer of $3,500 with a pre-signed liability release — only the signature on the document they sent is Sarah's, and the truck rental contract is in Nick's name.

"Is this your signature?" Darcy Spears asked Sarah.

"No," she replied.

"There's all kinds of issues in this case," Van said.

They're not allowed to talk about how much money they ultimately settled for after hiring Van.

Asked for an interview, U-Haul sent back a written statement saying: "It is not our practice to offer comment or grant interviews on legal cases — pending or settled."

Even after the case was settled, U-Haul kept coming after Nick for keeping the truck overtime, which he did not do.

It was impounded by police, but that didn't stop U-Haul from sending him to collections. His most recent bill was for nearly $900.

After we reached out to U-Haul for this story, they notified the collection agency to stop any billing.

Find more in-depth reporting from 13 Investigates at ktnv.com/13-investigates.

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