Man finds car 13 years later, but can't get it back

PORTLAND, Ore. -- If your car is stolen and police find it, you get it back, right?

A Portland man says that is not what is happening in his case.

Rick White said he bought a brand new green Plymouth Cuda in 1970. He raced it at Portand International Raceway.

"My whole life's been involved with this car," he said. "I just never intended to let go of the car or sell it."

White said someone stole the car from his garage in Southeast Portland in 2001.

"It was a very upsetting time," said his wife, Jackie. "It was hard to even think about it being gone."

The Whites said they searched for years and found nothing, until last month.

In June, they received a letter from Budget Towing in Northeast Portland that said their car was being stored at Budget, but the person storing it there had not paid the bill, so it was going up for auction.

The Whites said they received the letter because the Department of Motor Vehicles lists them as the owners.

"Years of advertising, looking, watching and all of a sudden, here it is," said Rick White.

"Absolutely shocked," said Jackie White. "I was elated for a while."

But the Whites said they called Budget and were told the man storing the car had paid the bill and had the car delivered to his home.

The Whites called police.

"It's stolen property. Go get it!" said Rick White.

But they said police told them they could not recover the car, even though the Whites have the title.

"Why wouldn't the cops get our car? It's very mindboggling," said Jackie White.

"How come police don't have a warrant to go in and get my property?" said Rick White.

Sergeant Pete Simpson with the Portland Police Bureau said the statute of limitations, three years, ran out, and with no crime to prosecute, police can't just get a warrant and get the car, like some might think.

"That feels like the right answer, but what's the law that supports that answer?" said Simpson. "We certainly don't want to go take someone's property and give it to someone else and find out we did not have not legal authority to do that. We can't do that as law enforcement officers."

Rick White asked if that meant people can take things and keep them until the statute of limitations has passed and then claim them.

"In other words, I could come over and steal some of your fine jewelry or your car or boat or plane, keep it hidden for 13 years, what I'm seeing now, what I'm being told is, I can keep it," said Rick White.

"That's the part we're trying to figure out, too, because it doesn't seem right. It doesn't seem right to us. We need to find the relevant laws that help us answer that question because it isn't something we normally run into," said Simpson.

Simpson said investigators are still working, figuring out how to solve this unusual case.

Police said the man who has the car is Lee Sitton, who lives near Troutdale. He is listed in state records as the manager of AAC General Contractors in Gresham.

The Problem Solvers went to his gated estate and rang through the intercom at the gate, asking to speak with Sitton about his side of the story.

"There isn't any side to the story as far as I'm concerned because there is no story, really. The story is to be determined later. There is no story now," said Sitton.

Sitton said he bought the car many years back and has a bill of sale.

He said he does not believe the car was stolen.

He did not answer many questions and ended the intercom conversation.

He did not return calls asking him who sold him the car, and why he did not title the car within 30 days of buying the car, as required by Oregon law.

The Whites said Sitton is doing the wrong thing.

"It's a matter of, 'I've got your property, na-na-na-na-na,'" said Rick White.

"Just return the car," said Jackie White. "Bring the car back and walk away."