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On the road with the Repo Man

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  • On the road with the Repo Man

    SPOKANE, Wash. - One local company says the repossession business has doubled in the past five years because people can't make their car payments. It's a dangerous job with a big return that's reaping the benefits of a struggling economy.
    Every week, 150 repossessed vehicles end up at Dealers Auto Auction. But before they ever arrive, someone has to take them from driveways and parking lots across the Inland Northwest.
    A day in the office is a day in a Dodge for Chris Zornes with Nationwide Recovery Service.
    "We're in the repossession business. I'm the guy who usually comes to your house," Zornes explains.
    He's the guy who can track you down, take your car and take a hit all in a day's work.
    "I had a case where the guy actually ripped the truck off of my truck and ran me over leaving," he said.
    It's the danger of the job, that adrenaline, keeping Zornes in this risky game.
    "There's times that we will leave an area with a car and we'll just be shaking, it's the anxiety level," he said.
    "When I was a kid I was always really good at hide and seek and that's what this is. This is a huge game some of these people its really a game, people I'll go after three or four times we'll get their cars."
    On this day, Zornes has a pocket full of keys and a list of cars to grab: "We are going to be going after an '03 Ford F250, we're going after a 2000 Nissa Xterra, a 2001 Mercury Marquis."
    Those keys and that list are a sign the financial crisis so many face is far from over. Bad luck, lost job, excuses Zornes has heard it all. From the wealthy to those on welfare, no one is immune.
    He repos between 250 and 300 cars a year, double from five years ago.
    "Sometimes we deal with people who have really good jobs and just aren't making good decisions," he said.
    Zornes heads to Cheney in search of a 2003 Ford F250 whose owner missed two payments. As soon as he spots in he moves in and out in less than a minute to grab the truck. In this business you have to move fast.
    Once on the street, the reality of the repo sets in. Zornes says the owner had an on the job injury and couldn't keep up with the payments.
    Annie Bishop: "Is it hard seeing people on one of the worst days of their lives?"
    "Yes, yes I mean I won't lie, I've had vehicles where I've actually cried leaving because I felt so bad because they were in just a horrible situation," he said.
    The compassion comes from experience. Zornes had his own car repoed when he was 19.
    "Someone came over and cleaned out the car, I didn't like that," he said.
    That's why he always knocks on a door, letting people know what's going on. That empathy just may be why Zornes has survived some hair raising repos filled with knives, guns, yelling; at times, he's feared for his life. He carries a taser and pepper spray just in case.
    "There have been a few times, it's gotten pretty scary," he said.
    Even so he hops in his Dodge every day.
    "I can't explain it, I just enjoy it. I'm good at it."
    Zornes' next assignment is 30 miles north in Chattaroy. His target is a 2001 Mercury Marquis. The owner only made one payment on it.
    "This guy here has been repoed a bunch of times," he explains.