Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Christmas came early for a Jefferson City, Mo., man, whose beloved classic car was stolen more than a decade ago.
Edward Neeley, who tracked the car down in Utah last month, got to take it home Tuesday. “I signed the paperwork and I have the keys to the car right here,” Neeley said, just moments before he would see his 1969 Camaro for the first time in 16 years.
Neeley flew into Salt Lake City Monday night to claim the car at the Utah State Tax Commission building. “Nervous, excited, emotions are going crazy right now,” Neeley said, anticipating the moment he would see his muscle car again.
Neeley couldn’t contain his excitement when he saw the red Camaro. “Oh, oh, I got my baby back,” Neeley said, rushing toward the car.
Neeley got the Camaro when he was 18 years old and lovingly named it Chelsey Pearl. In 1995, someone stole it. By sheer luck and persistence, Neeley, got it back. It was fate, he said. “Never in a million years thought it would come, even after I found it on the Internet.”
Earlier this year, Neeley was researching muscle cars online when he saw the Camaro listed for sale on KSL Classifieds. The seller, a man from Syracuse, had bought the car four years ago on eBay. Investigators say, at the time, that man didn't know the VIN had been switched. When he registered the car in Utah, an officer didn't catch it.
“It’s unknown how many people did own it and how it was bought and sold and how many miles it had on it,” said Charlie Roberts, spokesman for the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division.
Neeley knew the Camaro was his as soon as he saw the photos online. He and his father went to Utah to sort it out.
Neeley got a copy of a police report from Syracuse police, which listed the vehicle’s VIN. As an “old muscle car guy,” Neeley says he recognized that the listed VIN belonged to a Chevelle, not a Camaro.
Davis County investigators then got a search warrant and found the authentic VIN in the door panel, which confirmed Neeley’s suspicions.
After an investigation, the Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division returned the car to Neeley, who was determined to be the rightful owner.
Investigators say, the previous owner of the car is also a victim. That man, Brent Dockery, said he bought the car for nearly $16,000 and added another $10,000 in upgrades.
In September, Dockery said he wanted to take out the upgrades he installed in the car. The Motor Vehicle Enforcement Division says any further issues between Neeley and the other owner will have to be resolved in civil court.
Dockery could not be reached for comment Tuesday and Neeley said he hasn't heard from him.
Neeley had the car shipped back home Tuesday.
“She’s back," he said. "She already loves me, I can tell, so we’re back together, baby. I’ll get you back in shape.”
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