Plea deal infuriates owner of the Wild Cherry van: “He got away with it”

Wild Cherry Van post restoration

Chris Carter couldn’t have expected a better legal conclusion to the outrageous and contentious ride of the “Wild Cherry” van. Laura Godin, on the other hand, is furious.

According to Teri Maddox of the Belleville News-Democrat, Carter accepted a plea deal proposed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney and pleaded “no contest” Wednesday to one felony count of driving or taking a vehicle without consent. In 2017, Carter removed the 1975 Chevrolet G-10 custom van—which made a brief appearance in the 1979 movie Van Nuys Blvd.—from the California desert property owned by Laura and Steven Godin, claiming it had been abandoned, and trailered it home to Illinois. When the Godins, who no longer live on the 20-acre property, learned the van had been taken, they reported it stolen. Carter was later arrested and charged with three felony counts and, months later, an additional misdemeanor count.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Carter’s sentencing is being delayed. If he remains out of legal trouble for two years, the case could be dismissed. And he gets to keep the van—or what’s left of it. Carter was ordered to pay $5000 in restitution to the Godins and nearly $1000 to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for towing and storage fees on the impounded van, which was found stripped and spray painted three weeks after Carter’s arrest in October 2018.

Carter, who faced a maximum prison sentence of four years and two months if convicted, received no prison time beyond the 23 days he served in the Madison County Jail following his arrest.

Chris Carter is now in Madison County Sheriff’s Department custody wild cherry van
Madison County Sheriff’s Department
Chris Carter is now in Madison County Sheriff’s Department custody

Nigel Villanueva, Carter’s lead criminal attorney in California, described Carter as “exuberant” after the preliminary hearing. Carter did not respond to a request for comment.

“We definitely see this as a victory,” Villanueva told the News-Democrat. “I think it was a very fair settlement. I thought the D.A.’s office was very fair and reasonable.”

Laura Godin, who in March told Hagerty her side of the story, vehemently disagrees.

“I was minding my own business until this creep came along,” Godin said. “This guy is a con man. He’s conniving. He’s a thief. He’s pulled the wool over a lot of people’s eyes, and he could get away with it—he did get away with it. How can somebody go on somebody else’s property and take their van?”

Godin said the case has taken a toll on her and her family. “From the beginning, my health has not been good,” she said. “And adding the stress of this case has made my health worse.”

Carter filed a civil suit against the Godins after his arrest last fall, claiming he should be declared the van’s legal owner. Four months later, the L.A. District Attorney responded by charging Carter with a misdemeanor count of dissuading a witness from prosecuting a crime. Earlier this week, Carter filed a motion to dismiss his lawsuit against the Godins, likely a requirement of the plea agreement.

Wild Cherry Van found in mountains
Wild Cherry Van / Facebook

Police couldn’t find the van when they arrested Carter on October 3 in Illinois, and he refused to cooperate with the investigation. Authorities located the Wild Cherry van on October 23, not far from where Van Nuys Blvd. was filmed. It had been stripped and spray painted, virtually undoing all of Carter’s restoration work.

Villanueva said Carter plans to restore the van again. Asked if Carter is in possession of the parts that were removed from the van before it was left stripped and painted black on Van Nuys Boulevard, Villanueva declined to comment.

Laura Godin told the News-Democrat that she hopes charges are filed by authorities in Florida, where Carter obtained a title for the van without proof of ownership, and in Illinois, where a second title was issued based on information from the Florida title. Considering what happened at Carter’s California hearing, however, she isn’t optimistic.

“He’s gotten away with (taking the van),” Godin said. “That’s the bottom line. It’s not fair, but as you get older, you learn that life isn’t always fair.”

Wild Cherry front
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department