Broken promises anger families of terminally ill race car fans
BALL GROUND, Ga. - At first, it seemed like a divine answer for those struggling with costly health issues.
Instead, two race car-loving families with diseases ranging from ALS to muscular dystrophy claim a California man took advantage of them. And took their money.
“I think he has made the worst time of our life even worse," complained Stacy Long. "That's what I think.”
For better or for worse is a vow Stacy and Jeff Long take to heart. The Cherokee County couple married seven years ago, right before Jeff would start to develop some serious health issues.
The once athletic, 5-foot-11-inch distribution manager would eventually be diagnosed with ALS -- Lou Gehrig's disease -- draining their savings and forcing them to move into a cramped Ball Ground basement apartment with his mother.
Jeff communicates now only through texts. It's been two years since Stacy heard her husband's voice. She had to quit her job to care for him fulltime.
One love clearly keeps him going, but it's the love of sports car racing that wound up costing Jeff plenty.
Through Facebook, Jeff met Gordon Stewart, longtime race announcer for Irwindale Speedway near Los Angeles. They traveled there to watch some of the races and got to meet some of the star drivers. Jeff was thrilled.
Stewart told the Longs about a TV show he had in mind called "Your Amazing Comeback." He even had some graphics drawn up to help with his pitch Stacy still remembers.
“I want to do a show, something uplifting showing people with medical challenges but still choose to be positive," she recalls Stewart saying. "And he said he'd love to get Jeff involved in that.”
And Stewart said the show could even make them money... if they wanted to be investors.
“He sold us," sighed Stacy, then pointed to her husband. "He sold him... unfortunately.”
The couple took $15,000 from Jeff's medical fund and gave it to Stewart, with the written promise they'd get back another $14,670 on top of their investment.
Stewart later asked Stacy to call into his podcast last year to promote "Your Amazing Comeback."
“When we tell that story Stacy, I'm telling you. It's going to be the best," Stewart promised on camera.
"I believe you,” she responded.
But Your Amazing Comeback.... never came to be. The first episode has yet to be produced.
I asked the couple what they got for the $15,000. Jeff held up his hand and made a zero sign.
He's not alone.
“I just thought I was the only one," admitted Kim Sturgeon. "But I'm not.”
The northern California mom also met Gordon Stewart at the Irwindale track, her two sons constant visitors with a passion for racing.
Adam and Ricky suffered from a rare disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Both boys later died. Stewart even spoke at Ricky's funeral. Kim Sturgeon says later the always-charming fellow race fan offered her a chance to be part of Your Amazing Comeback.
“I thought, you know, they're going to showcase the kids," she remembered. "And they're going to talk about maybe we can help another family that has one kid or maybe they have two kids like we did that just passed away from this disease. But... it didn't turn out that way."
She gave Stewart $1000 from her son's funeral fund, with the written promise of a $750 profit within 46 days.
That was 15 months ago. Kim hasn't seen a penny.
“Do you think Kim that he's just a bad businessman or a bad guy?" I asked.
“I don't want to think that you know?" she responded. "It's like God! He just made everything a mess.”
The FOX 5 I-Team tried several times to schedule a recorded interview with Stewart who lives in the California area. Each time he agreed... then canceled.
Earlier, he confirmed that he encouraged the two investors to take part in his proposed television show with the promise to create a steady income for their families. Stewart insisted he was still trying to produce Your Amazing Comeback, but ran into technical issues because of his inexperience in creating a television show. Stewart told me he understands the anger directed his way, but still promises to pay in full the Longs and Kim Sturgeon.
If that happens, both say that truly will be an Amazing Comeback. But they say they no longer want to hear hopeful comments. Because even promises can bring pain.
“Stop getting his hopes up just to let him down again," demanded Stacy Long. "Because that's all you've ever done. That's all you've ever done. I wish we had never met you.”
The Irwindale Speedway is now under new ownership. Management there said Stewart is no longer the track announcer.
The Longs have a website set up to take donations for their medical bills: gofundme.com/teamlongalscom