An Illinois man who gained some fame in the car world for restoring the Wild Cherry van that appeared in a 1970s B-movie has been charged with stealing the very vehicle that made him famous.
The Belleville News-Democrat reported 39-year-old Chris Carter was arrested at the Madison County Courthouse during his divorce hearing. He was charged with two felony counts of taking a vehicle without consent and misdemeanor trespassing by driving on private property.
The issue at hand is how Carter came to be in possession of the Wild Cherry van that appeared in the 1979 film Van Nuys Blvd. He said he first saw the van in a photo two years ago. The vehicle was sitting in a field, had a tree on top of it and, at some point, was singed by a wildfire.
“After I saw the picture, I just couldn’t get it out of my mind,” he told the News-Democrat in February. “To see that van abandoned with a tree on it, and to know its former glory, how nice that it looked, how it was in a movie … I knew I had to do something.”
It took a year, but the former body shop employee eventually figured out where the van was located near Lancaster, California by using Google Maps. He and a friend drove 1,900 miles and asked around about it. Carter said locals told him the van was “abandoned” and one opened a gate to the dirt road that led to the van.
Carter and his friend loaded the van on a trailer and drove off.
“We didn’t know it was missing,” Laura Godin, who co-owns the property where the van was left, said. She said her husband, Steven, bought the van in 1980 and the couple had dreams of restoring it.
“(Carter) has no idea the sentimental value that I hold in my heart for that van,” Godin, 54, told the News-Democrat last month. “… It’s been mine since I was 16. He has no idea what it means to me.”
Godin filed a stolen car report but acknowledged that Wild Cherry had not been registered since the early 1990s.
While Godin sought the allegedly stolen van, Carter performed an extensive restoration that he documented on Facebook. Enthusiasts monitored the progress and a GoFundMe for the project raised nearly $6,000.
And despite the ongoing legal matter, a Carter-driven Wild Cherry led a caravan to Los Angeles in September, has spoken about how the restoration story would “make a great movie” and filed a trademark on the words Wild Cherry. Carter sells memorabilia with the van’s name on it.
Carter’s bond was set at $25,000 and he will likely have to travel to California for court proceedings. The current whereabouts of Wild Cherry are unknown.
“It wasn’t recovered in Collinsville, and it was not something that he drove here,” Capt. Mike Dixon, chief of detectives with Madison County Sheriff’s Department, told the news outlet. “We don’t have the (van).”
Should he be found guilty, Carter could face more than four years in prison.
“He’s going to be locked up for a while,” Wendy Carter, his wife, said Thursday morning. “I was like, dude, can’t you just sign the papers first? I just want out of this. … I just want to go back to my regular life.”
The divorce hearing was postponed until November.