CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – Nearly a year after Hurricane Irma turned streets into rivers and hurricane-force winds battered homes, two homeowners in the Doctors Lake area of Clay County said they have learned a hard lesson since trying to get their storm-damaged docks repaired.
Robert Salay told the I-TEAM that he and his neighbor paid more than $13,000 combined to repair their docks. They said the contractor took their money, but never finished the job.
Salay now wants other people to know about the one critical step he missed in the contract process.
"It's a shame," he said. "There's nothing you can do.”
Salay said he deeply regrets hiring local dock repairman, Russell Duckworth, and his company, RD Marine. Salay needed his entire dock rebuilt, and said the contractor got off to a good start, bringing supplies and starting the work. Salay said he paid Duckworth upfront to complete the job because Duckworth and girlfriend claimed they had fallen on hard times.
"Finally when we paid him nine (thousand dollars) of an $11,000 job, he came and asked for another $1,000, saying his girlfriend’s car was in the shop and he needed a thousand to get it out," Salay said. "I foolishly gave him a thousand, and said he wouldn’t leave until it's done. After that, he didn’t come around much anymore."
The I-TEAM also spoke off camera with Salay's neighbor, who said he paid Duckworth a $2,500 deposit to repair his dock as well.
They both said they signed a contract with RD Marine, but said they missed one critical detail. They said they failed to specify a firm completion date in the contract, which Salay said made it hard for him to press charges.
"The one big thing would be is, if you sign a contract, get a completion date because at least then you can go after on a criminal charge, you have a better chance of recouping your money," he said. "Make sure there's a completion date in your contract when you sign it.”
Without a specific start and stop date on a contract, a spokesperson for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office confirmed, it’s difficult to pursue criminal charges.
Salay said he did take Duckworth to small claims court for the money he was owed. Duckworth didn’t show up, so the judge ruled in Salay’s favor, finding he was owed nearly $5,000. The hard part now, he said, is recouping his money.
"It's a shame there's nothing you can do," Salay said. "We've gone to police. It's not a criminal case."
Duckworth declined to talk on camera, but told the I-TEAM by phone that he couldn’t complete the job because tree trimmers who Salay hired blocked his vehicle from getting to the work site.
Salay said that when he won his lawsuit, even the judge told him he’s going to have a hard time getting his money back.
He said he can’t stress enough how important it is to check contractors references, and always specify a start and completion date in the contract.
That’s advice the Better Business Bureau also gives to consumers. For a complete checklist when hiring a contractor or any business, visit BBB.org.