Cable company keeps billing couple year after they died in wildfires

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018
Company keeps billing couple that died in North Bay wildfires
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It's been six months since devastating wildfires swept across the North Bay. Among the 43 who were killed, World War II veteran Charles Rippey and his wife of 75 years, Sara.

NAPA, Calif. -- It's been six months since devastating wildfires swept across the North Bay. Among the 43 who were killed, World War II veteran Charles Rippey and his wife of 75 years, Sara.

Their home in Napa burned to the ground, destroying everything they had, from furniture to love letters.

One thing did live on though - the bills the couple kept getting long after they died - for internet service and satellite TV.

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"I couldn't think about it,'' said their daughter, Susy Rippey Harris of Alamo. "We had gone through so much. This was the last thing that wouldn't go away."

Harris said the family was still struggling to cope with the tragic way her parents had died. The couple had known each other for 90 years - meeting in first grade, They became high school sweethearts, dated in college, and married before he went into World War II.

Nothing could prepare Harris for what happened that day.

"It was the evening of October 8, I got a phone call from my brother Chuck,'' Harris recalled. "He said there was a big fire in Napa and our parents' house burned down and they died in the fire. I was on the phone I couldn't believe my ears. I said, 'Chuck are you kidding me?'"

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Harris and her brother went to the burned out home in the Silverado neighborhood.

"It was all gray ashes,'' she said. "It is hard, the way they went."

Harris says businesses, banks, public agencies all made it easy for the family to close the couple's affairs. There was just one nagging loose end.

"The crazy scenario of trying to close out the AT&T account,'' Harris said.

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Weeks after they died, Susy's parents got a bill for AT&T internet and TV - services that stopped because of the fire.

Susy told AT&T her Mom and dad had died in that infamous fire, and besides, phone and internet services had stopped in their Silverado neighborhood.

"They told me I needed to appear in person at an AT&T store with a death certificate and the bill,'' she recalled.

It took hours but a store clerk said the account and charges were now canceled.

"OK. And I believed her and the next month, I got another bill,'' Harris said.

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This time AT&T charged her parents $194 for service in November - long after the couple had died, and service to the area had ended. The bill also demanded the October payment plus a $9 late fee.

Susy spent another two hours at the AT&T store

"At the end, she said yes it's closed out no problem, no problem, no problem. Then in December we got another bill," said Harris.

Again AT&T canceled the charges. But when January came, so did yet another bill.

"I couldn't think about it. I couldn't believe I had another bill in my hand,'' Harris said. "People already told me this, you should call Michael Finney,''

She contacted 7 On Your Side - which contacted AT&T.

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"Thirty-five minutes later, could have been 40, I get a call on my cellphone from the office of the president at AT&T," Harris said.

The company zeroed out the account immediately, saying, "Unfortunately we made mistakes handling this account and we couldn't be more sorry. While we made the correction some time ago and have apologized to the family, we're working to make sure situations like this don't happen again. "

Now Susy hopes her parents can rest in peace.

"I sincerely hope they're enjoying heaven. I hope they're dancing," said Harris.

A final note: Charles and Sara would have celebrated 76 years of marriage on March 20. Their children say they'd be happy to know someone took care of that last loose end, and that AT&T promises disaster victims shouldn't have this trouble again.

Written and produced by Renee Koury.

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