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Another auto dealer resolves mentally ill man's dispute over $30,000 car

A dispute between a mentally ill South Merced man and a local car dealership that sold him a $30,000 Cadillac has been resolved--thanks to another local dealership.

Last week, the Sun-Star published a story about 61-year-old Bill Butler, who suffers from both manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia. Butler bought a 2007 Cadillac CTS from Courtesy Automotive Center in Merced last month.

Butler’s wife Linda says the couple survives on $1,600 a month in government assistance and argued she and her husband couldn’t afford the car’s $500 monthly payments.

Linda, who was at home sick when Butler decided to go car shopping, says the dealership took advantage of her husband’s condition.

Linda emphasized that because her husband is mentally ill, the transaction, which included their old car on trade-in, should be reversed. The dealership initially told her it wouldn’t rescind the deal, but agreed after the story ran to work with the couple to undo the sale.

On Wednesday, another local dealership, Ron Smith Buick Pontiac GMC, bought back the Butler’s Cadillac, agreed to pay off its $36,000 loan and sold the couple a car they say they can afford. Ron Smith contacted the Butlers offering to help after reading about their plight in the Sun-Star.

“I feel 1,000 percent better about everything,” Linda said Wednesday afternoon. “We can manage the new payment, and the car drives like a dream.”

The Butlers bought a used, burnt-orange 2007 Chevy Aveo. They’re paying $11,200 for the car, which has about 5,000 miles on it. Two representatives from Merced’s chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) accompanied the Butlers during the sale.

“This was definitely a good deal for the Butlers,” NAMI President Nicole Clark said. “The dealership didn’t make any money on it. They actually took a pretty big loss, but they really wanted to do the right thing.”

John Crane, Ron Smith’s sales manager, worked with the Butlers on the sale. He estimates the dealership will lose at least $14,000 on the deal. “We’re going to pay off their $36,000 loan, and the most we can probably get for the Cadillac is about $22,000,” Crane said, adding that the dealership sold the Aveo at cost. “But it’s worth it. Those folks were so happy to have it taken care of that it made a bunch of us down here cry. It was pretty emotional.”

The Butlers will make $220 monthly payments on the Aveo for the next six years. The dealership financed the car at 9.9 percent. “They have good credit, but their income is so low, that was the very best we could do,” Crane said.Brian Wells, Courtesy’s general manager, said he’s glad the situation has been remedied. He said Courtesy tried to arrange a meeting with the Butlers to reach a resolution, but the Butlers never returned the dealership’s calls.

Courtesy officials have previously said they felt they did nothing wrong in selling the Cadillac to Butler. They said that Butler didn’t seem mentally ill, that no one pressured him into buying the car, that he was automatically approved for the $36,000 interest-free loan the dealership gave him and that Butler exaggerated his income when applying for the loan.

Butler denies that charge.

Courtesy dealership officials also said the Butlers waited far longer than a few days to try to return the car, and that when they finally did, Linda didn’t make it clear that Butler is mentally ill. Linda insists she tried three times to return the car in the first three days after Butler brought it home, and that she explained Bill’s conditions.

The initial story about the Butlers prompted anger and outrage among some Sun-Star readers. In phone calls, e-mails, letters and online comments, dozens of people expressed sympathy for the Butlers. Some threatened to boycott Courtesy. A student club at Buhach Colony High School in Atwater announced it will accept donations on the couple’s behalf. Other online comments questioned why Butler, with a psychiatric condition, should be allowed to drive, and some commented that Courtesy had done all due diligence required in such a case. They said Courtesy was legally obliged to sell the Butlers the car if the couple had met all the financial thresholds.

Linda said her husband wasn’t available to talk about his new car Wednesday afternoon: “He’s out driving it.” Reporter Corinne Reilly can be reached at 209 385-2477 or creilly@mercedsun-star.com.

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