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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Family sues dealership over rental car mix-up

A North Idaho family detained by police at gunpoint after their loaner car from a Spokane BMW dealership was mistakenly reported stolen is suing Lithia Motors and Camp Automotive.

Casey and Sheree Bryntesen describe a harrowing experience they say left them and their two children traumatized, and they are seeking more than $2.2 million plus punitive damages.

Dylan Jackson, a Seattle attorney representing Oregon-based Lithia and Camp Automotive, said the business made a “clerical error” and the company apologized to the family and offered them “substantial restitution, but they refused to take it.”

The family, which lives in the Wolf Lodge area east of Coeur d’Alene, said they were on their way to a Bible study at a friend’s house the evening of June 19. Their 11-year-old son, 9-year-old daughter and family dog were in the back of the BMW sedan, the replacement car Camp had provided while their car was in the shop for repairs, the suit states.

As Casey Bryntesen pulled the car into the friend’s driveway, a Kootenai County sheriff’s vehicle pulled alongside and a deputy got out and pointed his gun at Bryntesen’s head, the suit alleges. A second deputy got out and pointed an assault rifle at the family, including the children, according to the complaint filed in Kootenai County District Court.

More officers arrived and pointed rifles at the family, ordering each out of the car one by one and placing the parents in handcuffs, the suit alleges. Deputies were “screaming and extremely agitated,” according to the family’s account.

All family members wept while the parents attempted to explain they had a written agreement proving it was a replacement car. The Sheriff’s Office tried to call the dealership to sort out the mix-up but was unable to reach anyone there that evening. After about a half-hour the family was released, but their car was impounded.

Jackson, the lawyer for Lithia and Camp Automotive, said none of the defendants named in the lawsuit “pointed the guns at the family. It came down to an innocent mistake about whether or not a car was stolen, and they thought it was stolen and they reported it as stolen, and the family got pulled over.”

The case was assigned to a sheriff’s detective, who contacted Camp and was told the dealership was upgrading its tracking systems when the incident occurred, and that the car in question was not normally a rental, sheriff’s spokesman Lt. Stu Miller said.

“The employee filled out the rental paperwork but never filed it,” Miller said.

A vehicle inventory showed the car missing from the lot. To activate the BMW tracking system, Camp had to file a stolen vehicle report with the Spokane Police Department. That’s how it was tracked to Kootenai County.

Asked Wednesday about the deputies’ response, Miller said, “As you know we have to go off the information presented to us to gauge the risk; generally stolen vehicles qualify as a high-risk stop. Yes, I’m sure the deputies gave clear, concise and loud commands. I’m also sure that they had weapons drawn until the parties were detained.”

Miller added, “The deputies did an excellent job of locating the vehicle, stopping it, securing it and investigating to the point that they were reasonably sure the Bryntesens did not steal the car.”

The Bryntesens, represented by Lukins & Annis attorneys in Coeur d’Alene, allege false arrest, breach of contract, negligence, defamation, infliction of emotional distress and violation of the Idaho Consumer Protection Act. They also named three company employees and BMW of North America as defendants in the suit.