FOX 29 Investigates: Bullet Extraction Damages Car

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For many in Philadelphia a car is a lifeline to work, shopping and transporting the kids.

But a city woman lost her wheels when a bullet pierced her car during a homicide and police had to pry it out.

Then, she had to fight over who was going to pay the bill, FOX 29 Investigates' Jeff Cole reports.

It was around 9 on the chilly first night of November when Ana Rivera walked into her grandparents' Juniata home and realized she needed to make a trip back outside.

"In front of my house, there was no parking. And I forgot my boots in the car for the next morning," she said.

The 19-year-old saw her chance to move closer the car her boyfriend's mom kindly let her borrow.

She re-parked the 1994 Toyota Corolla and headed back inside.

"Like five minutes later there was gunshots," Ana said.

A man she doesn't know was wounded on the sidewalk. She called 9-1-1 and watched from the door as police arrived: "I just wanted to make sure he was OK. But, unfortunately, he wasn't."

Lycoming Street was awash in red and blue flashing lights as officers searched the murder scene with flashlights.

Also struck by gunfire? The car Ana had borrowed. She took a photo of the bullet hole.

Before towing away the car, a detective said they needed to take it and the bullet lodged inside for evidence, saying, according to Ana, "that they were not gonna damage the car any way. If they couldn't take [the bullet] out, that they was gonna leave it as is."

Ana broke the news to her boyfriend, Angel Mercado Cruz, and his mom, Doris Cruz.

"It could have happened to anyone, like, you know what I mean?" Angel said.

But when the trio went to get Doris' car from a police lot three days later, they found this.

"I see just, just a big hole in the car," Angel told us. "I was like ... I was just mad 'cause the detective said they wasn't gonna do nothing to the car."

Doris covered the damage with cardboard and tape to keep the metal from cutting anyone.

"We've still got some measurements on the, on the car. This is where the bullet hole was," Angel said.

Showing a crowbar found in the trunk, he said, "This is what they used to rip the hole open."

Police directed the Cruz family to file a damage claim with the City of Philadelphia's Risk Management Division. They did so within two weeks.

They only have liability insurance on the car. Damage estimates were between $2,200 and $3,000.

It took the city until Jan. 20 – more than two months – to acknowledge the claim and request more paperwork.

After getting their car back from this police lot, the family couldn't drive it because it wouldn't pass inspection with that big hole in the side. It took them about two-and-a-half weeks to gather all the documents the city wanted. But one day after sending them, they learned their claim had already been denied.

The city is "not responsible for the 'Criminal Acts of a Third Party,'" the letter said, adding that the police report "stated this was a homicide investigation." Not only was the claim denied, the file was closed.

"She just wants help," Angel said, translating for his mother. "Like it had to come to this, to call you guys to help us. But she just wants help with that, she don't have money to buy a new car."

Why'd they call FOX 29 Investigates? They found online one of our stories from last spring about a woman's parked car that was hit by a city trash truck in South Philly. The public works driver even left a note, on a city form, with the truck's number! Risk Management told the owner a private contractor may be responsible. But when we got involved, they quickly paid her $1,000 deductible.

One day after we called about Doris' car, her phone rang, too. She's getting $1,000.

"I'm very happy that my mom's getting her car fixed, you know, to take my brother and sister to school, go to appointments and stuff like that," Angel said.

A city spokesman said our call prompted a second look, and they determined police did "excessive damage" extracting the bullet.

The city believed the damage estimates exceeded the car's value, which is what resulted in the $1,000 settlement offer.

A manager can review damage claim denials, the city told us. But the Cruzes say the adjuster on their case wasn't calling them back.

So far, there are no reports of any arrests in the homicide case, Cole reported.

Have a tip for the FOX 29 Investigates team? Email us at fox29.undercover@foxtv.com or like Jeff Cole's Facebook page and send us a message!

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