HOUSTON (CN) – A Texas Ford dealer resold a plumber’s work truck without removing company decals, which ruined his life when a photo of jihadis shooting an anti-aircraft gun from the truck went viral, the plumber claims in court.
Mark Oberholtzer owns Mark-1 Plumbing in Texas City, an hour southeast of Houston.
He traded in his Ford pickup to AutoNation Ford Gulf Freeway in October 2013 for a newer model, and as he waited for the deal to close he started peeling the “Mark-1 Plumbing” stickers off the truck, he says in a Wednesday lawsuit in Harris County Court.
A salesman told him to stop, because it “would blemish the vehicle paint” and “the dealership had something better for removal,” Oberholtzer says in the complaint.
He says his secretary dropped a bombshell on Dec. 17, 2014 when she called as he drove to Corpus Christi.
Two days earlier, a member of Ansar al-Deen, a jihadi group, had tweeted a “propaganda photograph” with a message stating: “using plumbing truck against regime in #Aleppo,” according to the complaint, which includes the photo.
“Plaintiffs’ logo and phone number were still on the vehicle door,” Oberholtzer says in the complaint. He says the media picked up the story and by the time he heard from his secretary the backlash was in full swing.
“By the end of the day, Mark-1’s office, Mark-1’s business phone, and Mark’s personal cellphone had received over 1,000 phone calls from the around the nation. These phone calls were in large part harassing and contained countless threats of violence, property harm, injury and even death,” the lawsuit states.
Oberholtzer says his secretary was too scared to go to the office and that he, afraid for himself and his family, went to McAllen for nine days to escape the hostile onslaught.
“While in McAllen, Mark called defendant to discuss the situation. Defendant stated that they ‘never touched the truck,’ but instead sent it to Dallas,” according to the complaint.
Oberholtzer says he obtained a vehicle history report that showed the truck was sold at auction in Texas in November 2013, then shipped the next month from Houston to Turkey.
The video and media attention threw his life into turmoil, Oberholtzer says. Besides the constant requests for interviews, from “USA Today, CBS, NBC and Inside Edition” among others, he got visits from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, whose agents told him “there are crazy people out there” and to “protect himself” so he started packing a gun.
The Colbert Report’s final episode on Dec. 18, 2014 “began with the segment ‘Texan’s Truck in Syria'” and featured Oberholtzer’s truck. “The episode was watched by 2.481 million viewers, making it the most watched episode ever in the show’s history,” the complaint states.
A year later, Oberholtzer says, he still gets threatening phone calls “whenever ISIS commits an atrocity that is reported nationally.”
He seeks more than $1 million in punitive damages for fraud, gross negligence, negligent misrepresentation, defamation, invasion of privacy and deceptive trade.
He is represented by Craig Eiland in Galveston.
The defendant is Charlie Thomas Ford Ltd. dba AutoNation Ford Gulf Freeway.
Its sales manager did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.
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