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Pacific Beach hit-and-run damages Navy vet's 'Big Bertha' camper van

Pacific Beach hit-and-run collision damages Navy vet's 'Big Bertha' camper van
Posted at 4:55 PM, Aug 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-04 20:50:43-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A Navy veteran and business owner are on a mission to find out who hurt his camper van, also known as ‘Big Bertha.’

Along Felspar Street near Mission Boulevard, a beachside slumber was interrupted around 3 a.m. Monday.

“Woken up by a loud crash and motion,” said Rafael Mercedes.

Mercedes, who lives out of a camper van he calls ‘Big Bertha,’ was asleep near the back, when a vehicle plowed into the back of the van and took off.

“The door was mashed in, and also, the window was broken. The mounted toolbox stopped it inches from my head,” said Mercedes. “My home just got hit by a hurricane, pretty much.”

‘Big Bertha’ was Mercedes' first camper van conversion after he left the Navy a year ago and started Veteran Vans, a custom camper van business.

“The entire goal is to basically give employment to and help train veterans,” said Mercedes. “We are 100% veteran owned and operated.”

‘Big Bertha’ also serves as the shop van, transporting supplies. In recent months, the business has slowed and this incident is the latest blow.

“It's very crushing and disheartening … It is currently putting the business at risk,” said Mercedes.

The damage to the van is still being assessed, but at minimum, it'll be about $15,000. It's unclear if insurance will cover damage to custom-built items like the mounted toolbox.

Mercedes fears if his insurance totals the van, he'll be paid out far short of the $40,000 he put into it.

That's why he's spent Thursday morning posting flyers near the accident scene in hopes of finding the hit-and-run driver.

“We need to find this person in order to hold this person accountable through the insurance system … It’ll be hard but I have to stay in the fight for myself and the other vets who want to come and work,” said Mercedes.

Mercedes says black pieces of a bumper were found near the scene. They were possibly from a Honda. Anyone with information is asked to call San Diego Police at 619-531-2000.

A Gofundme campaign has been set up to help Veteran Vans with expenses related to the hit-and-run incident.