Jada Duke/Kevin Duke via Facebook
Something strange in the glove box
Kevin Duke wanted to make sure everything was in order with his daughter’s new car. He’d been saving up the money to make the purchase for a long time and he’d finally made the purchase.
He just knew the car would make the perfect birthday present for his teenage daughter. Kevin popped open the glove box to check out the car manual and paperwork once again. But as he fiddled around, his fingers brushed up against something strange …
Picking out the right car
Turning 16 is a big milestone for most teenagers. In most states in the U.S., it’s the age when an adolescent can finally hit the road all on their own. It’s an exciting, emotional, and stressful time, particularly for parents. This was no different in the case of Kevin Duke and his daughter, Jada.
Like many fathers, Kevin wanted to make sure the car he got was perfect for his daughter — above all, it had to be safe. After scouring used car dealerships, private sellers, and for-sale signs, he thought he’d found the ideal car for Jada. Little did he know, he’d come to regret the decision …
He had to be sure
When you purchase any car — especially a used one — you want to be sure you’re not getting a lemon. While a test drive and inspection is no guarantee the car will last a long time, it’s necessary to get some idea what you’re getting yourself into when you’re making such an important purchase.
Kevin took the car for a spin and brought it in for an inspection, checking the engine, transmission, cooling system, and anything else he could think of, to make sure the silver Ford Fusion was in the best possible condition. He made sure to leave no stone unturned, or so he thought …
His daughter was thrilled
It’s hard to describe the feeling when you’re given a thoughtful gift — especially one of such magnitude. Owning your first car is both a privilege and an incredible new responsibility for a teenager. Naturally, Jada was thrilled and grateful for her father’s generosity.
She’s lucky to have a father that loves her and cares so much about her happiness and safety. Kevin wanted to make sure everything with her new car was perfect and that she was ready to head out on the road safely. While fiddling with the glove compartment, he noticed something strange — something he’d never noticed before.
An unwanted surprise
“I’m in it tinkering around and I open this storage compartment on top of the dash (which I’ve opened a half dozen times already),” Kevin said. “This time I notice a rubber mat in the bottom of it and for whatever reason, I pull it out.”
Kevin was shocked by what he found underneath the piece of black rubber. It was a letter addressed to the “New Car Owner.” Beneath that it said, “Important Info Inside.” The father’s heart dropped. Was it supposed to be a warning? He’d already bought the car. Then again, it could be something worse …
What could it be?
Why would someone write a letter to the new car owner when they sold a car? It would be easy just to pass along any information to the person or dealer they were selling or giving the car to. Also, why would they deliberately hide the note?
The person who put this envelope there obviously wanted it to remain hidden for some time. Clearly, it had worked — Kevin himself had scoured every inch of the car and missed it several times. He only wished he’d noticed it before he’d bought the car …
Opening the letter
Though the car was intended to be his daughter’s, Kevin was the one who’d made the purchase and would continue to make payments on it — he was technically the owner. He decided to open the envelope and look at its contents before showing Jada. Kevin still had no idea what would be contained inside and he didn’t want to disturb his daughter with the contents if he didn’t need to.
As his eyes scanned the handwritten letter, he was filled with a sense of remorse and sadness. This was something completely unexpected — it marked the beginning of a mystery he knew he had to solve.
The contents of the letter
The letter explained the incredible sentimental value of the car to its previous owner. The story told was one of such tremendous pain and sadness that Kevin was immediately overcome with emotion. “I won’t lie, I shed a few tears,” he said.
“To the person who gets this car, I just wanted to let you know what a special vehicle you’ve bought,” the letter began. “This car belonged to my mom. She passed away Feb. 25, 2015 in a house fire along with my 6 year old daughter and my aunt. The last time my mom drove this car was the day she left us.”
The story went on
Kevin Duke couldn’t believe what he was reading. The writer recounted how she’d lost everything in the fire and that a mix-up with her insurance payments caused her to miss payments and have to give up the car. She described some of the memories she had in the car in heartbreaking detail.
“I don’t know if you’ll see it, but there may be a dirty spot on the dash,” the letter read. “My daughter and I would pretend to go on adventures as we sat in the driveway and she always put her feet there … The dent in the rear driver’s side fender and the dent in the passenger’s side door are where my daughter learned to ride … and crash … her bike a few months before her death.”
So many memories
The letter described the music the writer’s mother and daughter loved to listen to in the car — their favorite songs were “Big Green Tractor” and “Free Bird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, which was played at their funerals.
The car itself even had a name: Sylvia. The letter described that when the writer’s mother first drove it off the lot, the first song that came on the radio was “Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show. From that day on, they referred to the car as Sylvia.
It closed with a plea
“If you ever want to sell the car, please try to find me,” the letter concluded. “Hopefully I’ll be in a better financial situation if you decide later she’s not right for you anymore. Be blessed, be happy, and live and love like we did.”
Though he had no way of knowing when he purchased the car, Kevin felt guilty for taking something that meant so much to someone. There was someone else he needed to think of as well …
Sharing the letter with his daughter
Kevin wasn’t immediately sure how to proceed. However, one thing he knew for sure was that he needed to share the letter with his daughter, Jada. How would she react to the incredibly sad story he’d just read? What did she think they should do?
Kevin felt guilty about gifting his daughter something so significant and potentially snatching it away, but he also felt guilty about buying something that meant so much to someone, only to have it snatched away from them.
As he’d expected, Kevin’s daughter was deeply moved by the story and was similarly overcome with guilt after reading the heart-wrenching words. Jada and Kevin both agreed that they’d try their best to rejoin the car with its rightful owner.
They felt it was important to try, even if it seemed impossible. At the very least, it would be a good story to share with the world.
Tracking down the writer
Kevin wanted to find the car’s previous owner as quickly as possible and, in today’s modern world, what better way than to take to social media? Kevin first shared the letter on his own Facebook timeline, halfway expecting it to go nowhere.
Boy was he wrong. A story like this didn’t take long to go viral.
The Facebook page “Love What Matters” shared the letter and it quickly gained thousands of reactions and shares. People commented about how heartbreaking the story was and some even offered to help.
It caught Tammi’s attention
One woman was especially moved by the story and decided to reach out to Kevin and Jada. Tammi Warrington wanted to help in any way she could. She reached out to Kevin and said that she wanted to reunite the writer of the letter with her mother’s car.
Kevin agreed, but what could they do? She decided to do some sleuthing of her own. Kevin was on the same path, and before long, they began to find answers to their questions.
The digging uncovered more details
Fortunately, tracking down the writer of the letter wasn’t difficult. She had signed her name Sabrina Archey and her tragic story could be found in the news. After the accident that claimed the lives of Sabrina’s mother, daughter, and aunt, her community pulled together to help the woman.
People in the town assisted her with the insurmountable funeral costs. Later, her daughter’s school hosted a charity event to raise awareness about the importance of having working smoke detectors. Hundreds of children released balloons to celebrate the life of young Jensyn, Sabrina’s daughter.
Even with $700 raised by members of her community, Sabrina found it impossible to stay afloat financially. The heart-wrenching emotional burden was compounded by the financial stress of balancing budgets for funeral expenses and putting her life back together.
Unfortunately, after losing so much, Sabrina lost even more. She was forced to leave behind “all that I had left to touch,” when she gave up the car. “It’s very upsetting that I have lost my family, my home and now I’m losing this last link I have with my mom and child through no fault of my own,” she lamented.
Even if Sabrina had been bitter about her situation, most people would have understood. As a matter of fact, no one even wants to think about how they’d feel if they were to go through what she had. Even so, Sabrina wished the new owners of her car the very best.
“I’m not mad at you,” she wrote. “I hope this is the best car you ever own. I hope it runs for 100 more years.” Reading those words made Tammi Warrington feel she had to figure out a way to get Sabrina her car back. Fortunately, Kevin and Jada were also on the same page — and they’d even been in contact with Sabrina already …
Kevin and Jada wanted badly to give Sabrina her car back, but they knew they couldn’t handle being out that much money. “I didn’t want to make any money from it,” Duke said. “If I could have afforded to replace the car, then I would have just given it to her.” Still, they knew they had to figure out a way to get Sabrina her car back. But how?
All of them spoke together to devise a plan. They calculated the total cost — including taxes that would have to be paid for gifting or selling the car — and landed at $12,300. Calculating the figures was the easy part. They couldn’t help but feel disheartened. How would they be able to come up with that much cash?
The community came through
Just like Jensyn’s memorial/charity event, the group decided to create an online fundraiser to raise funds to reach the goal of $12,300. The visibility of the story on Facebook helped reach a wide audience, and within a matter of days, they had raised $3,500.
Sabrina, Kevin, Jada, and Tammi were greatly moved and thankful for everyone’s generosity. Unfortunately, it was still drastically short of covering the costs. The group tried to remain positive, but they couldn’t help but feel discouraged, until …
Help came from far away
One good thing about our digital world is that it makes people feel connected, even when they live half a world away. The cause received support from all the way in Australia. Fly on the Wall Productions caught wind of the story that people had spread all over the internet and felt compelled to help them reach an even larger audience.
The story aired on This Is Life Live, a TLC show that documents journeys of families going through incredible circumstances. It airs these moments as they unfold as well as telling the incredible stories behind how they happened. But would this story have a happy ending or would it be all heartbreak?
A tearful exchange
It was now the moment of truth. Tammi sat down with Sabrina with tears in her eyes. “We worked so hard and tried to get all the money together,” Tammi said, fighting back her emotions. “We wanted you to know that … Here’s Sylvia. She’s yours.”
Sabrina broke into tears as she whirled around and saw the silver Ford Fusion parked outside the door.
She was overwhelmed
Kevin and Jada hopped out of the car holding the letter to embrace Sabrina. Tears were flowing down her face as she sat in the passenger’s seat and pointed out the spot where her daughter’s feet had stained the dashboard.
“I’m just so close to her right now,” she said through tears. “You have no idea what kind of gift this is to be able to touch this. Thank you for that. That is a very special gift,” she said as she hugged Kevin again.
What about Jada?
While we can’t say the incredible tragedy Sabrina endured has a happy ending, it is nice to know that people from all over the world were willing to band together to help her. But there’s one loose end that still needs to be tied — one teenager is still out of a car!
Well, don’t worry — Jada was able to get her own silver Ford Fusion shortly after Sabrina got hers back. The teenager decided to name her new car Sylvia 2.
We often hear about how much negativity there is in the world and how social media can bring out the worst in people. It’s easy to forget that most people mean the best, and many will do anything they can to help others.
Kevin, Jada, and Tammi all felt compelled to help someone they’d never met based on the story she told. When they shared the story, people all over the world pooled together to help someone in need.