A repo turned deadly in Lewis County Kentucky last night. Now, a West Portsmouth husband and father is dead and two other people are wounded.
We talked to two repossession experts with almost 40 years of experience between them. They said the only surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often. The lack of training for repo agents combined with tense situations is a tragedy waiting to happen.
“It can be deadly,” a former repo man told SCDN. He asked that we not give his name out of fear for his safety. “It’s a great way to die.”
“I’ve had two dogs biting me while a woman had a pistol on the skin of my forehead. How she didn’t accidentally pull that trigger and blow out my brains is nothing short of the grace of Jesus Christ himself.”
Let’s start by looking at what happened in Kentucky.
Bryan Ray Biggs of West Portsmouth was shot to death while trying to repossess a vehicle. Multiple sources say Aaron Cottrell and his wife Bonnie Dalton were wounded. Lewis County Kentucky law enforcement officials call it a repossession attempt gone wrong.
A woman, claiming to be Cottrell’s cousin, posted these photos showing his injuries.
Michael Justice, 47, of Garrison was arrested and booked into the Lewis County Jail charged with murder and First Degree Assault.
Husband and Father Bryan Biggs
Bryan Biggs, 37, was killed. He was an employee of Ted’s Towing. However, owner Teddy Scalf says Biggs wasn’t working for the towing company on Tuesday night. “It was Bryan’s night off. He was working for another towing company doing repos.”
Scalf went on to praise his late employee, “He was one of the hardest workers and like a brother to all of us.”
Biggs leaves behind a wife, Kari, and four children. Sources say Kari Biggs was also at the scene of the shooting. She posted this message to social media in tribute to her husband.
Dale Powell, a former teacher of Biggs, described him as “Always friendly- usually smiling. He wasn’t the best or worst student in class. He was and remained a very hard worker. He had serviced my vehicles several times over the years with his work with Ted’s Towing and AAA.”
I spoke with two experienced repossession agents for this story. One, with a decade of experience, asked that we not give his name. The other, Todd Dunn, spent 30 years of driving a wrecker and repossessing vehicles and other property.
Both agreed that safety training for repo men is almost non-existent.
Dunn said that while banks offer training about the legalities of repossessing property, they aren’t concerned about safety. “The bank is just gonna sit back and let you go. They just want to get to their collateral.”
My second source agreed. “There is no training. It’s on the job. They throw you in a car or truck with another person and you ride along. There are no background checks.”
A Hazardous Job
Todd Dunn says he’s been shot at more than once in the course of his job. “I’ve never been afraid. You know it’s there. If you were afraid of it you wouldn’t be there. I had many a bullet hole put through my truck.”
Dunn said he’s been shot at, attacked with baseball bats, and had bricks thrown through a window of a truck. A man with a gun once followed him all the way to the Portsmouth Police Department.
Our other source has repossessed everything from trucks to RVs to a fleet of armored cars. He says sometimes banks do things that make repo agents act recklessly.
“Banks love to get out there in the time between a bankruptcy filing and when it goes before the judge. They’ll put a bounty on that car.” The trick is that the car must be repossessed before the paperwork gets to the courthouse. The sense of urgency can lead to recklessness. “You want the extra money. You’re more apt to spout off or fight with the customer.”
But he says his most frightening moment didn’t involve a gun. It was the time he repossessed a car and drove all the way back from Charleston, WV with a python in the back seat. He didn’t discover the snake until the next day. “People have no understanding. It’s a great way to die.”
Talking To Jesus
Both sources agree that the vast majority of the time, repossessions happen with no issues. Dunn says, “Ninety-nine percent of the people, they knew we were coming and weren’t bad about it. The 1% was a problem.”
Our second source put it this way, “Seven out of 10 are completely fine. Two are gonna give you trouble. One will make you talk to Jesus. Do 30 to 50 repos a month and you’re talking to Jesus on a regular basis.”
Dunn says the repossession agent’s behavior can go a long way to keeping the situation calm. He said that most of the time he went alone because sometimes multiple people can make a situation more volatile.
“We did our best not aggravate or torment them and let them know we were coming. You didn’t force the issue. We never did. I treated people with respect when they was losing stuff. You can’t treat people like sh*! when they are at their last point. They got no wheels, they got not job. That’s the last thing it takes to make them break. You treat them like a human.”
Could Get More Violent
Our source tells us he fears things are only going to get more violent. He says there are a lot of parallels to the Great Recession.
He said back in 2008, his company was busier than ever repossessing items like boats and motor homes people bought on lines of credit from their homes. But that’s when things went wrong.
“It got dangerous. People were pissed. The whole country was pissed. The banks started getting late paying the repo people.”
That’s when his workers became afraid for their lives and he chose to close his doors. “We made the decision, it’s dangerous. We pulled back and closed up shop.”
Our source says the parallels to what’s happening to the economy now are hard to miss. “That’s what’s happening now. We can only expect more violence.”
Grand Jury Update 06/19/20
The old adage that “the wheels of justice move slowly” comes to pass. As people have continued with their lives and other talking points fill the headlines Michael Justice remained in custody. Today, the Lewis County Grand Jury voted “No” on his murder charge. Michael Justice was immediately released from custody and is a free man. It is not known if there are other charges pending. If so, they haven’t been made public and Justice has returned home after being held without bail since May.
We will be reaching out to the Biggs family for comments when they have had time to process this information.