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Woman sues U-Haul for auctioning her treasures

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BOSTON (AP) — Before Shannon O'Connell left to work for a nonprofit agency in Romania, she piled her possessions into a U-Haul storage facility for safekeeping.

Today, almost all are gone, auctioned by U-Haul of Boston for $400.

O'Connell is suing for $1 million, alleging that after a credit card glitch, U-Haul sold almost everything she owned without contacting her or any of the relatives she listed on her rental application.

"I've lost my entire history as a person," O'Connell said in Saturday's Boston Globe. "Everything I ever wanted to keep is gone."

On paper, what O'Connell lost has little monetary worth. But the items invoked memories that she said made them valuable to her.

The collection included photos of herself with President Clinton, Al Gore and Steven Spielberg, a signed copy of a novel by Alice Walker, and a tape of love songs from an old boyfriend, as well as her love letters and personal poetry.

The only existing copy of her master's thesis was in there, too, along with her grandmother's black velvet evening dress.

U-Haul denied wrongdoing and declined further comment. A claims examiner for Republic Western Insurance Co. of Warminster, Pa., said only that the company was gathering facts on the case.

O'Connell, 31, left for Romania last August for a two-year stint with the National Democratic Institute, a group that advocates responsible politics in emerging democracies.

Romania's crippled infrastructure prevented her from getting mail or using phone service for months. When she came home for Christmas, she noticed U-Haul had stopped billing her credit card account for the storage. When she called, she was told her possessions had been sold to pay a past bill.

O'Connell's lawyer, Frank Gaeta, said it's unclear why the credit card billings stopped. But he said U-Haul violated a state law that requires storage companies to notify "all other persons known to claim an interest" before property can be auctioned off.

U-Haul sent two registered letters to O'Connell's old address but didn't notify any of the four relatives she listed on her rental agreement, Gaeta said.

"I want the financial means to replace the things that can be replaced," O'Connell said. "And I want some justice."