Talk about an act of God.
Pastor Greg Beutel, the 39-year-old leader of Light of the World Lutheran Church, was driving home on North Tarrant Parkway in north Fort Worth last month when something banged into the rear of his car.
He thought he had been rear-ended. But he saw nothing in his rearview mirror. "I looked closer and saw a huge streetlight in the street behind my car. I deduced real quick that the light fell off the pole and hit my car."
He got out and saw a big dent on the trunk and the bumper. He looked up and saw the arm of the streetlight above him attached to a wooden pole, but there was no light.
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He called Fort Worth police, figuring that if they documented the incident, the city would pay for the repair.
When he took the car to a body shop, he was told that, yeah, the city would probably pay for it.
He submitted the insurance claim to the city's risk management office. Not long after, his claim was rejected. The repair cost $2,000, and his insurance deductible is $500 -- a lot of money on a preacher's salary (especially one who doesn't have his own TV show).
Turns out that state law protects municipalities from paying for property damage that is not caused by a city employee. If a city employee had rammed a vehicle into the pole, causing the light to fall off and hit the car, then the city would have paid.
But that's not what happened here.
"The frustrating thing is I don't have a choice," Beutel said. "I'm being penalized by the law for something I have to do. I have to drive on city streets. I have no choice. Yet something like this happens through no fault of my own."
The city could pay anyway, but spokesman Jason Lamers said that wouldn't be smart.
"Just like every other city in Texas, our liability is determined by state law," Lamers said. "That law is in place to protect the public funds belonging to our taxpayers. Disregarding this law would obviously set a precedent with the possibility of great costs to our taxpayers. It's hard to tell if this light fell down because someone hit the pole with a car or was damaged by wind or weather, but in this case we need to follow the applicable state law."
Beutel said it was not windy.
Lamers said, "Anecdotally, this is an extremely rare occurrence."
The Watchdog asked the preacher whether anything in the Bible could help explain this oh-so-rare occurrence. He quoted Matthew 10:29: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall on the ground apart from the will of your Father."
How does this apply to him? "Things just don't happen by chance. God is in control, so you shouldn't worry about it.
"So in the end, if I were going to apply this to myself, I don't need to worry about the fact that I'm out $500 and could be without a car for a week for repairs.
"I haven't been overly stressing over it because I know in the end God will provide for me, and I'll be taken care of. I'm personally annoyed by the situation, but it doesn't ruin my day."
A good reminder for everyone when bad things happen to good people.
Sunday: Looking at Tarrant County's construction spending spree.
The Watchdog column appears Fridays and Sundays.
Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043