By Chuck Woodbury
This is a story about pissing off the wrong person or in this case RVing family. Please excuse the language, but I wanted to make a point.
As I reported three weeks ago, Jason Epperson and his wife, Abby, who travel full-time with three young boys, were evicted from a Colorado RV park late last month for allegedly violating a park rule that prohibited the delivery of mail or packages.
The Montrose – San Juan RV Resort in Montrose, Colorado, claimed if it allowed guests to receive mail, it would somehow place the park in a landlord-tenant relationship, which could make it a challenge to evict guests later if necessary.
We checked with the state of Colorado and campground industry insiders about this, as well as with our friend Don Humes at America’s Mailbox, an authority on domicile issues for RVers, and none could point us to any regulation that stated if a Colorado RV park accepted mail for a short-term guest that would, by itself, establish a landlord-tenant relationship. Humes noted that while he is not specifically familiar with Colorado law, in general, “domicile” is established by the address on a person’s driver license, where they are registered to vote or where they do their banking.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that in three out of the last four years traveling around the country with my RV, I almost never encountered a park that did not allow me to receive mail there.
Jason had ordered a computer late at night at the Montrose park after his own died, to be delivered the next day. He was unaware he was violating any rule. He operates an online business; a computer is essential. When FedEx tried to deliver it, the park turned the driver away. The driver promptly called Jason, who walked off the property to claim the computer, then brought it back to the RV.
Then he, Abby and the boys headed off for a day of sightseeing at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. When they returned, Jason was surprised to find an email from park manager Tom Vail, instructing the family to leave, citing the mail delivery rule.
Much happened afterwards including some heated discussion, but nothing that should have even remotely warranted an eviction. Jason and Abby were so incredulous at what had happened they streamed a live video on Facebook as they packed up and left. Watch it here.
Manager Tom Vail had earlier called the Montrose County Sheriff’s Department, which dispatched several officers, who talked with the parties involved. No charges were ever pressed, none even suggested.
And, the fact is, the “no mail” rule, as stated in the park’s literature, which you see below, states it applies to long-term residents. Jason and Abby were staying five days. And so, the rule did not apply to them. I would have reacted the same as Jason and Abby, stunned being evicted for violating a rule that didn’t even apply. Most parks, I suggest, would offer a reminder to a guest, not simply evict them. In my decades of RVing, I have never heard of such harsh treatment.
What the park manager Tom Vail did not consider when treating the couple so harshly, was that they have a large following on their website RVmiles.com, plus a popular weekly podcast and YouTube channel. In this age of social media, any business must be very careful who they mess with, or risk a huge backlash.
Before the current incident with Jason and Abby, the park had 75 one-star reviews on Yelp, many mentioning unreasonable treatment from Vail.
So why did Jason and Abby even stay, given the many bad reviews? When researching the place, the couple had noticed a reference to “Under New Management.” They reasoned the negative reviews were no longer relevant.
The couple’s video went viral on YouTube, quickly reaching 157,000 views. Viewers left nasty comments directed at the park, angry voice mails, and began posting reviews on Yelp, campground rating websites, and apps, all one star. The park phone rang constantly with often hateful messages.
Such negative reviews would surely result in a significant loss of business in the future. The park retained a PR firm to do damage control.
Alan Warren, the host of the The RV Show USA social media and syndicated radio program was approached with the offer of an eyewitness testimony, a park resident named Al, who Warren then interviewed on this show. He later publicized the interview on his many Facebook groups. He never talked to Jason and Abby. Warren justified his long interview with “eyewitness” Al because, he noted, “there are two sides to every story.”
Unfortunately Al’s testimony was full of holes and irrelevant rants. He made statements he could not possibly have witnessed. He said, for example, that the sheriff’s office had escorted the Epperson family to the county line when leaving the park. “They not only escorted them out of the park, they escorted them out of the county,” he told Warren.
That does not happen in America, the last I looked. Actually, the family drove seven miles to another RV park.
Al ranted about the children running around the campground (which even if true was not relevant to the reasons for the eviction) and that Jason and the neighbor the couple was traveling with (who used the F-word once talking with Vail) were “hunters” and were therefore likely armed. Did he feel threatened? Jason told me neither men hunt nor do they carry firearms.
Al, whose last name Warren did not mention, claimed that Jason and Abby’s neighbor, Robert Armstead, had grabbed Tom Vail’s arm in anger and had “spit on him.” The sheriff’s report makes no mention of that. Jason denies it, too.
Our staff writer Russ De Maris spent many hours making phone calls and doing research to get the facts straight for this story. His calls to manager Vail and the property owner, Barber RVP, a Colorado limited liability corporation, were not returned.
I am convinced that Jason and Abby should never have been evicted from the campground. They did nothing wrong. I spoke with Alan Warren three times including once before he posted the video publicly, pleading with him to not do it. It was, I thought, incomplete, biased and unfair to Jason and Abby. I gave him Jason’s phone number but he did not call. Alan removed the video a day or two ago after more than week on his channels.
Here’s a follow-up video Jason and Abby recorded, explaining in nine minutes what happened after their first video. Its message is directed to Warren, although they do not mention him or his business by name.
The sheriff’s report of the incident is below.
The incident report
From the Montrose County Sheriff’s Department
From Jason and Abby: We have redacted our friend’s name for his privacy, and one swear word in case it gets flagged by YouTube: *****
On 07/29/2020, at approximately 1607 hours, WestCo Dispatch Center informed me of a disturbance, at 22045 Highway 550, in the County of Montrose, Colorado. Dispatch advised, an irate male party was being verbally aggressive at that location. Deputies responded to that address, where we contacted Tommy Vail (DOB: 09/06/1951).
Tommy stated, he is the owner of the RV Resort at this address, and he had a party violate the resort’s policy on receiving mail at the resort. Tommy stated, Jason Epperson (DOB: XX/XX/XXXX) attempted to have mail sent to him at the resort, which is expressly forbidden in the reservation agreement Jason signed prior to his arrival at the resort. Tommy said the office refused the package, but Jason received it outside the gates anyway despite the policy violation.
Tommy stated, when he informed Jason of the violation, another party who is travelling with Jason, later identified as XXXXXX XXXXXXXX (DOB: XX/XX/XXXX) became irate and began yelling at Tommy. Tommy stated XXXXXX used swear words, and there were small children around during the confrontation, which Tommy stated he will not tolerate at his resort.
Tommy stated he wanted both XXXXXX and Jason’s parties to leave the resort due to the policy violation and subsequent disturbance that was created. I then contacted Jason, who told a very similar story to what Tommy had stated. Jason told me, he frequently stays in RV Parks, and in the past there has never been an issue with receiving mail at one. Jason stated he understands he should have read the park policies more thoroughly, but said the section which prohibits mail being sent to guests is in the section titled “Long-term visitors” and Jason was only planning to stay for a few days, so he did not read that part.
When the delivery driver called him, Jason went out to get his package and did not think anything more of it. Jason stated he expected the park to be nicer about the violation and give them a warning or have a discussion about it, rather than just sending an e-mail and then asking them to leave. Jason said XXXXXX took offense to the way the complaint was handled, and when he vocalized this to resort employees, he used one swear word.
Jason said the response from the park was disproportionate to the offense, and he felt the whole situation was ridiculous. Jason asked what would happen if he refused to leave, and told me the RV he stays in is his “domicile” so he cannot be made to leave unless he is legally evicted.
I advised Jason, as he was a guest of the resort and had simply made a reservation, he could not be considered a tenant or resident at the address. As the owner, Tommy, was stating he wanted Jason and his traveling companions off the property, if he refused Jason could be cited for trespassing. Jason stated he disagreed with this, but stated they would leave because he did not want further problems.
Deputies spoke with XXXXXX, who advised them, Jason ordered a Macbook, to be delivered to the RV resort. When it arrived, the office refused the delivery, stating it was against policy. At this point, the delivery driver contacted Jason by phone and arranged to meet with him outside the gates to deliver his package. The resort owner found out about the delivery and sent Jason an e-mail stating he was in violation of resort rules, and advising him he needed to leave. XXXXXX heard about the email and became agitated, because he did not feel the response from Tommy was fair and felt Jason should be allowed to remain in the resort despite his violation.
XXXXXX stated he confronted Tommy, and said “this is fXXXing ridiculous” and at that point Tommy contacted law enforcement. Deputies asked if any threats were made, and XXXXXX stated no. Deputies asked if it was physical, and XXXXXX again said no.
Deputies informed both parties they were being asked to leave, and they stated the process of packing their campers was likely to take several hours. XXXXXX expressed to me that he did not want deputies present around his children, who he stated are home schooled and would be affected by law enforcement being near them. I advised XXXXXX, the park owner had given deputies permission to be on the premises and as long as we were performing duties related to our job, our presence could not be avoided.
Deputies remained on scene until XXXXXX and Jason’s parties had left the resort. As they left, Tommy advised deputies XXXXXX was recording out his window and yelling profanities at resort staff. Deputies then cleared the call without further incident.
BOND AMOUNT: n/a SUPPLEMENT(S): n/a Victim Notification Form? n/a Victim Rights Pamphlet? n/a /s/ Deputy S. Belcher Post# B3088-2486 CASE STATUS: Cleared non-criminal