DENVER - When Chris Baxter, and his wife, Oksana, were driving on Interstate 25 last year, they noticed workers spraying a substance as they worked on a bridge. Surrounded by heavy traffic, Chris Baxter had no choice but to drive under.
"When we came out on the other side of it, we noticed all the speckles on the windshield and I pushed the windshield wipers to see if it would clear off, and it didn't," Chris Baxter said. "So we knew we had a problem."
Their brand new Toyota Highlander was one of thousands of cars and trucks that pass through the $38-million highway construction project at I-25 and Santa Fe Drive.
CALL7 Investigators have learned that no official with the state of Colorado knows exactly how many vehicles have been damaged at the site. At least two have been -- the Baxters' SUV and another family's truck. Both families claim the damage occurred when they drove under the bridge as it was worked on by Hamon Contractors, a builder hired by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Though the spotting on the Baxters' SUV is difficult to see, the damage is extensive -- roughly $15,000 according to two independent auto shop estimates.
One of the shops referred by Hamon.
"We've been told the car has to be stripped down to bare metal," Chris Baxter said. "All the glass, trim, headlights, tail lights -- everything has to come out of this car in order to do this."
But more than three months after Hamon admitted in a letter that one of its subcontractors, Independent Painting & Coating, was responsible for spraying anti-graffiti coating from the bridge onto the Baxters' SUV, promising to pay for the damage, the Baxters were still waiting for repairs to be approved.
-- Taking up the fight --
The couple's fight began with paperwork at the state of Colorado's Office of Risk Management, which accepts claims for alleged damage on state roads and highways. In a letter to the Baxters, risk investigators identified Hamon as potentially liable, telling the couple to take the matter up with Hamon.
Another family, the Canady, also filed with the same office last year when their 2012 Chevy Silverado was hit with paint as it rolled under the same bridge.
When white dots streaked across his windshield, "I thought it was a little bird bombing at first," said James Canady. "My wife was like, 'Nah that's not it.'"
The substance was paint, but in contrast to the Baxters, when the Canady family received a letter from risk investigators, they were simply told that Hamon was the site's contractor. The Canady family was not told Hamon was potentially responsible for the damage and that if they wanted to continue to pursue their claim, they'd have to go directly to the contractor.
Without those instructions, they found the system difficult to navigate and simply gave up.
"I figured I'd go to them and just say this is what y'all did and they'd take care of it, but they didn't," James Canady said.
-- Holes in the system --
Since 2008, the Office of Risk Management has taken 93 claims for paint damage to vehicles on Colorado roadways. Of those, the state paid just one -- for a motorcycle accident caused by road striping. Of the 93, 34 claims were denied by the state because the state wasn't working the site. Rather, a contractor was deemed potentially liable. When asked, Risk Management could not immediately say how many claims against its contractors were ultimately paid because the office doesn't specifically track that information. And when CALL7 Investigators simply asked for the number of claims against Hamon at the Santa Fe site since construction began in 2011, officials told 7News it would cost an estimated $1,200 to provide that information.
The Colorado Department of Transportation also isn't tracking claims against highway contractors, said CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford.
"Typically CDOT doesn't necessarily track every single claim that might come through," Ford said. "There might be from time to time that we're made aware of an issue, but again, it is the responsibility of the contractor to handle [claims]."
By failing to track claims, CDOT has one less tool for holding problematic contractors accountable.
-- Hamon calls the cops --
Initially, Hamon officials spoke to CALL7 Investigators by phone. But requests to get Hamon's side of the story in an interview were ultimately ignored. So CALL7 Investigator Keli Rabon went to the company's office in person to seek comment. She was told by a worker to wait. After waiting in the lobby for about 45 minutes, Rabon left.
When she got outside, she was confronted by Adams County deputies.
"They asked you guys to leave, that's all we care about," a deputy told Rabon.
"That's not true, no one ever asked us to leave," Rabon said. "In fact, they told us we're welcome to wait."
Hamon later sent CALL7 Investigators a statement saying the Baxters' SUV was "inadvertently damaged by overspray from a painting subcontractor" and said insurance will pay for the damage. The company attributed delays in handling the Baxters' claim to the company's insurer.
"Although we and our subcontractors take all precautions, a passing vehicle may rarely sustain some damage from construction activities," Hamon Executive Vice President Muriel Agnelli wrote. "Hamon works closely with its subcontractors to make sure that all claims are identified and resolved by the insurers for this project."
While Oksana is glad the SUV will be repaired, she would like to see state officials take a more active interest in how contractors handle claims.
"I think they need to know and if people are handling this their own way through their own insurance or through whatever under table ways that there's no documentation, there's no trail, and nobody knows how good they are," she said.
- To complain to the Colorado Department of Transportation if you suspect your vehicle was damaged by highway operations, call 303-757-9485
-To file a claim with the State of Colorado's Office of Risk Management, use this form: http://www.tornado.state.co.us/forms/DPA/DHR/RiskMgmtClaim.htm. Instructions and more information is available on the liability page of the state's website: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/DPA-DHR/DHR/1224586003696.