Joel Carmona's Last Ride

A confused custom car show, and a dispute over money, mar the memory of a beloved community activist

The reason there was so little money, says Hargrave, is that there were only about 5,200 paying attendees, a far cry from the 20,000 to 50,000 he expected. The Carmonas dispute Hargrave's figure; they believe the number was closer to 20,000. The sponsor who asked not be named agrees with the Carmonas' attendance estimate. How many of those on hand actually paid to get in, though, is another story. Helen Carmona says she doesn't know, because Hargrave took care of all the tickets and the money.

Curiously, Norman Hargrave says that if the car show had earned any money, he would have liked the Carmonas to have it. In fact, it's a little hard to pin him down on the whole event and its aftermath. He ricochets between injured surprise, philosophical disappointment and outrage at the Carmonas for publicly complaining they haven't been paid.

"There's no question that we're going to take them to court," Hargrave says. "They have caused us a lot of grief."

"I gave them money when they didn't have a thing," he adds. "I opened my heart to those people, and for them to treat me how they did -- I'm deeply hurt."

Helen Carmona, meanwhile, is tempted to give up the whole dispute. She works as a secretary, but doesn't have enough money for a new place to live, much less a lawsuit. "If that money was not my kids' money," she says, "I think I would drop it all and say forget it."

But she won't, and neither, apparently, will others who knew Joel or attended the show. Sponsors are reportedly leery of other TCP events; at the same time, Richard Carmona says, he knows people who have said his family is just greedy. Worse, some grassroots groups that mobilized to help the Carmonas buy a new house have let their efforts drop, figuring the family got a nice nest egg out of the car show.

And then there are the people, such as Cliff Conrad, who brought his 1951 Mercury to the TCP show, who are plain baffled. Conrad found the show disorganized and infuriating, but he mainly went to help the Carmonas, he says. When it appeared as if it were going to rain, Conrad headed home -- but left his car, which he later found out won a $500 prize. Two weeks after the event, he still hasn't seen his prize money. Conrad says he doesn't know what to think.

"I wanted to go to this thing to help the family that is suffering," he says. "And Lord of Moses, it seems I am embroiled in the midst of this controversy. It was so touching the way the father tried to save the son. It reached a note deep inside me. I'm mystified by what has happened." Yet he can't keep from asking for his cash prize. After all, says Conrad, his father always told him, "Don't leave money on the table.

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