Bridge City Watersports suddenly vacates, leaving customers in a lurch

Bridge City Watersports suddenly vacates, leaving customers in a lurch »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. - Customers at Bridge City Watersports in Wilsonville say they have been left high and dry and now the sheriff's office is investigating whether the dealership has been lying to its customers while continuing to take in money.

Over the weekend, we went to the dealership to check out complaints about the business.  When we showed up it looked dark inside and when we tried the front door, we were surprised to find it wide open.  Merchandise had been left on the racks and there was half-eaten food on the counter, but there was no one to be found.

As concerned customers began showing up, they wanted to know where their boats were.

"They've been calling all week and haven't been able to get a hold of anybody, so they were wondering what was going on," said Kevin Phelps, a customer's friend.

Jeff Russell bought his boat at the dealership about a year ago and brought it back for service.  But there was a surprise waiting for him when he showed up over the weekend to check on his boat - a TV crew and officers with the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

Although Russell talked with police and got the go ahead to take his boat home because he had proof of ownership, there was another problem - a big one.

"Bank of America was here and said actually this boat has not been paid for, even though I've been paying on my note for almost a year now," he said.

Another customer told us off camera that she purchased a boat from Bridge City Watersports but had yet to receive a title and is hearing from the bank that they never got the money either.  Now she's not sure how much she'll be out.

We talked to employees who were helping customers retrieve their boats and asked them what happened.

"I have no idea," one employee said.  "I don't know any details or anything."

The owner, Gunther Thoma, wasn't on site but we later talked to him by phone.  He said he is a victim of tough economic times, which was little consolation to Russell.

"Who isn't?" he said.  "I'm a builder.  It's tough for everybody but ethics, you know, and code of conduct.  You don't do that to fellow friends."

Although Thoma denied our request for an on-camera interview, he did tell us he has poured about $1 million into his business to try to save it.