PROVO — A Katrina victim stranded in Utah on his way back to Louisiana began the long drive home Saturday thanks to a helping hand from a local car dealer.
Mike Boykin isn't sure what condition his Covington, La., home will be in when he returns in a few days after Hurricane Rita is done ravaging the area a second time, but his 1996 Chevy Suburban has a new transmission and intake manifold thanks to Brent Brown.
Brown paid half of Boykin's repair bill — which totaled $3,000 — but it wasn't an easy decision because he didn't know if Boykin was a victim or a con man.
"The difficulty, and I'm sure other business owners experience it, is it's hard to know for sure what's being portrayed is real," Brown said.
Boykin was ordered to evacuate his home after Hurricane Katrina damaged it and left the region without water or power. He was told last weekend he could return, but his vehicle broke down in Elko, Nev., as he drove from California to Utah on his way back. His mother, Donna Cross, found a place for him to stay in Springville and had the vehicle towed to one of Brown's Orem dealerships for repair.
But the bill was steep — $3,000. Boykin applied for help from the Red Cross, which gave him $1,500.
Then Boykin asked Brown to pitch in.
"It's an easy decision once you know it's legitimate," Brown said. "It's easy to donate to the Red Cross or the United Way because there's a comfort level. Frankly, I didn't know if he was from Anchorage, Alaska, or Boston, Mass."
Boykin produced his FEMA number and the check from the Red Cross; then Brown had employees check out the story.
"In this circumstance, we were able to call the Red Cross and cross-reference a contribution they had made to Mr. Boykin," Brown said.
The most genuine verification, however, came after Boykin and the Red Cross learned Brown was donating the rest of the cost of the repairs.
"It was hugs and tears," Brown said. "It was the kind of thing where you say, 'You know that was for real.' "
Boykin said the drive to Covington will take several days. Only then will he find out what's left of his home.