This is one of those stories that, at first, just seems simple and terrible. Unfortunately, the more that gets revealed, the less simple everything becomes. The whole thing revolves around one awful event: a 1981 DeLorean destroyed by fire. However, since it’s blown up on the local news and Car Internet, a lot of people are asking questions about what happened.
Around noon on Jan. 5, Daryl Kemsley, a 22-year old YouTuber with a taste for exotic cars, was driving his 1981 DeLorean, his childhood dream car. Kemsley claims he had just agreed to sell the DeLorean for $70,000, and was driving the car back from a mechanic after a pre-sale inspection.
During the drive in Orem, Utah, Kemsley claims in a Facebook post that he was rear-ended by a driver who fled the scene. Although the impact was said to be minor, when Kemsley said he attempted to pursue the other driver, he found that the DeLorean wouldn’t go more than 25 or 30 mph, and noted smoke from the rear, as he explained to me in a series of Facebook messages.
He pulled into a nearby Rite Aid parking lot, where he noticed flames coming from the car’s rear engine bay, the Facebook post said.
Already a bad day, sure, but it gets worse. Kemsley claims that he went into the Rite Aid and asked to use their fire extinguisher, but was refused by an employee. Kemsley describes it in the Facebook post, which has been shared more than 4,000 times as of this writing:
“I called 911 and ran into rite aid, and politely asked the cashier if I can borrow their fire extinguisher that was RIGHT there next to her. She told me that I could not use it because it was company property. I then pointed to my car on fire, and all she said was “Call 911”, (I already was talking to them on the phone). I then ask if she can help or go extinguish it since she wouldn’t let me use it, and she told me she didn’t know how to use it. I stood there in front of her for minutes begging and pleading to borrow the fire extinguisher, all while the flames got bigger.
Eventually, a stranger handed me a portable fire extinguisher he had, and I tried to go fight the now huge flames with it, but it was too late. The flame eventually engulfed my vintage, collectors 1 previous owner DeLorean (that I was selling for a large amount later today), and the fire department put it out.”
Yes, this is absolutely maddening. The idea that a car—let alone an interesting vintage car—could be on fire in a parking lot, and yet the use of a fire extinguisher is denied for inane reasons and ignorance is, of course, terrible.
Kemsley certainly appears to be a victim of many things: a hit-and-run driver, the alarming act of a DeLorean self-immolating from a very minor traffic incident, the callous disregard and ignorance of the Rite Aid employee, and fate itself.
The details of what started the fire aren’t clear, exactly. An impact to the rear of a DeLorean doesn’t seem like the sort of thing likely to start a fire, since a DeLorean has its fuel system components mostly clustered at the opposite end of the engine, by the firewall. Still, it’s an old car, so anything is possible when it comes to things going wrong.
(I spoke with a Walgreens-Rite Aid spokesperson about the situation, and they declined to comment until they conduct more research into the situation.)
This is not the first time Kemsley has had such terrible luck with cars. Last year his BMW i8 was severely vandalized, and he offered a well-publicized $10,000 reward for information about who was responsible.
Of course, not all of this may be as it seems, because there appears to be more going on here.
As I was talking to Kemsley, I got an email from DeLorean Performance Industries with the subject line “DeLorean Arson Utah.” An incendiary subject line, for sure.
DeLorean Performance Industries (DPI) is a repair and restoration shop well-known in that car’s community of owners. DPI had done some work on Kemsley’s car, but not a full restoration, though this was claimed by Kemsley’s eBay ad used to sell the DeLorean:
“This DeLorean has gone through extensive restoration at DeLorean Performance Industries totaling around $30,000.”
We can be sure the ad is for Kemsley’s DeLorean because the VIN referenced in the ad matches the last four digits of the one mentioned by Kemsley in a Facebook post from yesterday:
Here’s what the company told me:
“We have unfortunately been fighting this individual for months due to his false advertising of his vehicle as one of our build cars. All in an attempt to get a premium in the sale to an unsuspecting buyer. We have stopped over a dozen sales of this car prior to the fire as interested parties contacted us directly for the build details of our product.
It is rare for one of our innovative builds to hit the market privately as they are serialized and built to order raising flags all over the DeLorean community leading up to this. Out of financial desperation he decided to destroy torch the car in an attempt to collect his assured value.”
As evidence of their claims, DeLorean Performance Industries sent me screenshots of text exchanges with Kemsley where they requested that ads for the sale of his DeLorean be changed because the text could be “misinterpreted as we did a full restoration on this car.”
They also requested that references to them be deleted from YouTube, and complained to him that people were under the impression that they had restored the car, which they had not.
They don’t have any direct proof that the fire was intentional, despite their suggestions that it was set deliberately because Kemsley had financial issues and was hoping for an insurance payout.
I’ve reached out to the Orem, Utah police department to see if I could find out how the fire was being investigated. I have yet to hear a response, though a somewhat strange post on the Orem Police Department’s Facebook page suggests that they are aware:
There’s a video of the burning DMC from some passers-by, but all it shows is that most people have no idea where a DeLorean’s engine is and probably watch too many gangster movies:
And still, there is some confusing testimony surrounding the fire itself.
In a comment that has now been removed from Kemsley’s initial post, a Facebook user named Megan Kessler commented, among all the predictable Back to the Future jokes:
“Hey, remember me? I’m the girl who handed you the Rite-Aid fire extinguisher, which you refused, because you said you had already tried using one and it didn’t help. I’m not sure what happened after I left the store, but you were not refused a fire extinguisher. Why are you lying about this story?”
I asked Kemsley about this comment, and he responded that he had replied in the thread, and went on to say that
“Yes, my comments are on that thread. She did not even appear until it was too late to save, and apparently just stole it from rite aid without asking. I already used the small extinguisher from a stranger at this point and was suffering my injuries. At this point flames were 5-7 feet.”
Complicating the situation further is that a GoFundMe drive with a $50,000 goal was started to raise money to replace the car, though Kemsley insists he had nothing to do with the GoFundMe, and has not had any contact with the person who started it, Brian N. Godfrey.
I spoke with Godfrey, and it appears that he did not know Kemsley, and made the GoFundMe as a nice gesture from someone loves 1980s cars and who’s had experience with car fires. When asked why he started the GoFundMe, Godfrey told me:
A common friend of his told me he was a good kid, and he earned all of the money himself and his parents didn’t help, etc. I went by that testimony initially. I’m sure he’s got haters who are just jealous, but, because he hasn’t responded to me, I’m not sure what to really believe.
I had no idea how much money he had made or does make, I just felt horrible that he had to watch his dream car burn up and that the rite aid employees wouldn’t or couldn’t help.
He has had no contact with Kemsley, despite repeated attempts to contact him. (And as of Tuesday, the GoFundMe page has been deleted.)
Kemsley insists the fire was not deliberate, and has some very specific thoughts regarding what he feels would be a reasonable end to this mess:
“My insurance and car is a complete financial loss- I’ve come to terms with it. I want a public apology from Rite Aid, and their employees to be trained to handle safety equipment, which they legally should, and better management and training on the employees they hire.”
“This story is on the news everywhere, but a personal end goal I want is to be interviewed by my favorite YouTuber, Ethan Klein of H3. In the past he has done all the proper research and given justice to people in similar positions. I believe he has the reach and influence to explain the whole situation throughly and give me the justice I am longing for.”
If this is Ethan Klein he’s referring to, I’m even more confused.
So, what the hell is going on here? Is this a genuine accident, exacerbated by some very questionable policies and behaviors on the part of Rite Aid?
Or, is it possible this could be, as DeLorean Performance Industries and others are suggesting, a non-accidental fire?
All we can really say for sure is that there is one mint DeLorean less in the world and everything is always painfully and depressingly more complicated than it seems.