By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
An early morning fire on Oct. 23 at Bender Chevrolet-Cadillac on Mabry Drive is being called intentional by the State Fire Marshal, according to Clovis police.
Damage resulting from the flame is now being estimated at $1.5 million. Clovis police originally estimated the damage at $250,000.
“We don’t have any concrete suspects at this point,” Detective Keith Farkas of Clovis Police Department said. “There are a couple of people we are looking at.”
Darryle Bender, co-owner of Bender Chevrolet-Cadillac, said the newer estimate was arrived at by a claims expert. He said that figure should be pretty accurate.
During the heist, one car was stolen from the service department as a get-away vehicle, Bender said. Apparently the keys were in the car at the dealership, Farkas said.
Bender said that vehicle was later recovered in an alley about 1 1/2 miles from the dealership and returned to its original owner.
Offices at the dealership have been reopened in another showroom, but in spite of company efforts to keep business going as usual, sales have tailed off following the fire, Bender said.
“I’m going to say we’re about 80 percent open; we have complete service and complete sales,” he said. “Parts department is receiving parts on a daily basis and we can get anything they want over night or the next day.”
Bender said the public may have thought more cars on the property were damaged during the fire, but only the five in the fire-damaged showroom were destroyed. He plans to get sales levels back up by making deals and focusing on service.
“Immediately (we want to) be open and serviceable to the consumers, to all their needs,” he said. “And (we will) continue to make the kind of deals people are expecting to enhance their transportation.”
He said when the thieves cracked open the safe they found no more than $100. Bender management makes it a point to deposit receipts immediately and not keep more than $100 in the safe, he said.
Police responded the morning of Oct. 24 to another Bender dealership, Bender Honda, on a report that cars had been broken in to.
According to the police report, a 1988 Toyota Supra had been broken into and the perpetrator damaged the dash board in an attempt to steal the stereo. Total damage listed on the report was $600.
Bender said two cars were actually broken into, and the dashboard was taken from the Supra.
He did not believe the break-ins were related to the fire.