Investigating the Issues That Affect You Most

Shipping Mistakes Ruin Fundraiser

Address mess had do-gooders spinning their wheels

By Lisa Parker and Robin Green
|  Wednesday, Dec 7, 2011  |  Updated 10:35 PM CDT
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A fundraiser for a sick teen goes bust when a major shipper doesn't deliver. The mistakes made could change the way you ship this holiday season.

A fundraiser for a sick teen goes bust when a major shipper doesn't deliver. The mistakes made could change the way you ship this holiday season.

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When a co-worker’s son was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, John Flanagan said he was at a loss as to how he could help.

After a fundraiser benefit for 16-year old Jonathan Larson last January, it came to him. Or, more accurately, it came to Flanagan’s wife.

"She said, 'Well, what about your motorcycle?’ It was just sitting in a garage, collecting dust," Flanagan recalled.

The idea to raffle off the custom chopper, worth about $25,000, and donate the proceeds to the family of the sick teen was immediately embraced by co-workers who wanted to help.

"It was a great idea, a big hit… an easy way to draw up some money and try to help," said Flanagan. But standing in the way was the fact the chopper needed some serious TLC.

Flanagan and his co-workers at the Northwest Indiana car dealership found a specialty shop in California to re-chrome the wheels and shipped them off via UPS. They made two mistakes that would come back to haunt them: they got the zip code off by a digit, and they didn’t declare the wheels as "high value."

About a month after shipping, the raffle organizers called the California shop to check on progress. That’s when they learned the wheels never made it. A quick call to UPS revealed a comedy of errors that, together, conspired to ruin the plans for the raffle.

First, when UPS went to correct the erroneous zip code, it, too, made a mistake: flip-flopping the correct address of the shop on West 95th Street to the incorrect East 95th Street. And then, UPS delivered it there.

When Flanagan reported the wheels missing from its intended delivery spot, UPS said it tried to track down the package but had no luck. Flanagan did not request a confirmation signature at delivery time, so there was no paper trail for the shipper to follow. The shipper admitted its mistake in the address mess and reimbursed Flanagan shipping costs and $100.

Though the value of the wheels was close to $5,000, UPS says it could only pay $100 because the package was neither declared as "high value" nor insured.

Back in Indiana, high hopes to raise $50,000 for Jonathan Larson’s care were squashed.

"This was all for a really good cause. For a really good family to help them out in their situation," Flanagan said. "Such a simple thing like that ruined the whole program. It ruined the whole benefit."

So why couldn’t UPS go back to the incorrect address and investigate who might have signed for the wheels? When NBC Chicago asked a UPS spokesperson to look into this case, she said she doubted the company could find a package so many months later. But the case was re-opened, and eight months after delivering the wheels to an incorrect address in a residential neighborhood, UPS found them.

The shipper recovered them from the same incorrect address where they were delivered last April.

John Flanagan and his co-workers said they were elated to hear the news. A slogan at their Merrillville dealership is, "Miracles happen day at Mike Anderson Chevrolet," counting this development as one of those miracles.

Plans for another fundraiser for Jonathan Larson are back underway. The high school honor student suffers from multifocal myxopapillary ependymoma, or multiple cancerous slow-growing tumors on his spine. Insurance has covered some, but not all, of his ongoing treatment.

Target 5: Investigating the Issues That Affect You Most

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