The protesting couple who recorded a group of used car salesmen insulting them say they are on a quest to put the Ansonia dealership out of business.
Natalia Illas, of Seymour, and her boyfriend, Christopher Edwards, of Naugatuck, have been holding signs protesting outside Road Ready Used Cars at 520 Main St. since May 5.
The dispute started last month over the purchase of an $11,000 used car that had issues soon after it was driven from the lot.
But the issue took on a life of its own after a video of the Road Ready employees berating the couple went viral this week.
The Initial Dispute
Illas purchased a 2014 Chevrolet Cruze last month from Road Ready. Edwards co-signed the loan, according to Road Ready.
The vehicle had issues — a whistling noise and then some hesitation — before it left Ansonia city limits, Illas said.
The couple, with the blessing of a Road Ready employee, they said, took the car to a Chevy dealer in Waterbury to get checked out. They learned it had several mechanical issues.
They paid the Waterbury dealer $500, but the car needed a total of $1,400 in repairs, they said.
A long story short — the couple wanted Road Ready to reimburse them $500, and make the additional repairs suggested by the Waterbury dealer.
Road Ready disputes portions of the couple’s account, saying there were two warranties on the car and that they ignored instructions regarding how to get the vehicle fixed. The couple contends Road Ready didn’t respond to phone calls quickly enough.
Click this link to read Edwards’ complete explanation about the dispute as posted on his Facebook page.
Click the play button below to listen to an audio recording from Road Ready Used Cars owner Ron Saracino detailing his side of the story, which was emailed to The Valley Indy Wednesday evening.
Feeling they were being “bamboozled,” Edwards and Illas made signs and started to protest Road Ready on Saturday, May 5.
“We just felt like our hands were tied. We were backed into a corner. It was our only option,” Edwards said.
When they started protesting, Road Ready employees immediately starting calling the couple names, they said.
“The minute I started walking down the street, I was immediately a ‘slut,’” Illas said. “‘Go find my baby daddy. How can you purchase a car on WIC?’”
Illas said the experience was surreal.
“I don’t think any woman deserves to be belittled, especially by a group of men. I mean, one man, you’re going to get that one guy who is not raised right, but a group of men?”
“It was awful. I was embarrassed. I was humiliated. But I knew if I just keep doing what I was doing (saying nothing) it was going to bother them more.”
Edwards said he and Illas did not taunt the employees, other than pointing out they purchased a used car that had mechanical issues.
Road Ready employees called the police, who responded and said the protest was legal, according to Ansonia police.
The ‘Valley Trash’ Video
Things escalated on the third day of the couple’s protest — Monday, May 7.
Edwards and Illas said a group of Road Ready employees immediately confronted them outside the business.
Edwards used a cell phone to record the up-close encounter.
In the 10-minute video, a Road Ready employee tells Edwards “I’ll knock the f***ing beard right off your chin,” then requests that Edwards meet him down the street, without a camera.
Another makes lewd comments about his girlfriend’s’ appearance (“The girl’s half naked, a beautiful thing”) and tells Illas to bring one of her “baby daddies” to the dealership.
She has a 10-year-old son.
A third employee says he didn’t think Edwards was “Valley trash” given the fact he served in the U.S. Marine Corps.
A fourth employee accuses Edwards of being a “draft dodger,” though the draft was eliminated before Edwards was born.
The video is embedded below. The language is foul.
Edwards said Road Ready’s response to the two-person protest showed the employees’ true colors.
“As they were saying all that I knew this is about women now,” Edwards said. “(They are) complete misogynist guys that don’t care about customers, or women in their community.”
Not surprisingly, the video has been a public relations disaster for Road Ready Used Cars, and triggered an Internet backlash.
Facebook users in an Ansonia community group were especially angry at the use of “Valley trash” by a business based on Ansonia’s Main Street.
The video generated some 13,000 views on YouTube, and was mentioned within a post on Reddit, one of the Internet’s most popular websites.
The backlash against Road Ready has ranged from snarky memes to death threats.
One of the Road Ready employees in the video told The Valley Indy people have messaged him, threatening to rape his girlfriend.
The company temporarily took down its Facebook page.
People are driving by the dealership yelling profanities, Saracino said, and angry voicemails have been plentiful.
A fundraiser for a veteran’s group to be held in conjunction with WPLR radio has been canceled. Road Ready is a faithful WPLR sponsor.
Edwards started a petition on Change.org asking for the “removal” of the business.
And now Ansonia police are investigating whether to charge a Road Ready employee in the video criminally.
“My guys might get arrested for some of what was said,” Saracino said.
The owner said his employees in the video were clearly in the wrong, but also said Edwards was trying to get a reaction from the group, an assertion Edwards denies.
“They were idiots,” Saracino said of his employees. “My managers acted in a totally unacceptable way. We screwed up. We made a big mistake.”
He said he is planning to have his employees take anger management and sensitivity training.
The Valley Indy asked why Saracino didn’t simply fire every employee in the video.
The owner said he’s had a hard time hiring people at the Ansonia location, even though the staff can make as much as $80,000 to $100,000 a year.
While the owner and several Road Ready employees have issued apologies, Saracino also said the couple provoked the employees by showing up and protesting three days in a row.
The employees didn’t know how to handle the situation, he said.
Edwards pointed out he is silent in the 10-minute video, despite the flow of insults. At one point, a Road Ready employee implies he wants to “hit” Illas, as in want to have sex with her.
Edwards said the behavior speaks for itself.
Regarding the “Valley trash” insult, Saracino pointed out he’s from Shelton and that opening Road Ready in the Valley was a dream come true.
“I am a Valley person,” he said. “I guess I am Valley trash too.”
Saracino also referred to the couple’s requests as “extortion,” because, he said, they would not respond to Road Ready’s attempts to resolve the situation.
“The only thing I could tell you is that for three days they were tormenting us,” Saracino said. “They were chasing customers away. These guys make their living selling cars.”
But Illas and Edwards said they did nothing to provoke the employees — and that Saracino’s apology is hollow.
Where Does This End?
The Internet backlash has also hit Illas.
People have been posting information to social media regarding Illas’ finances and other publicly available records to which she is connected.
Illas said she graduated college in February and simply wanted what she paid for — a working car from Road Ready that would get her to and from a job.
Character assassination wasn’t part of the deal.
“You’re still harassing me?” she said in a Facebook video posted by Edwards Thursday.
Illas and Edwards are using social media to gather supporters for another protest at Road Ready scheduled for Saturday, May 12.
Road Ready has offered to buy the car back and to give the couple $500, but Illas and Edwards said they’re no longer interested in negotiating.
They want Road Ready Used Cars out of the Valley.
“You’re not just going to call me a whore and then pay me to keep my mouth shut. It’s not going to happen,” Illas said.
Saracino said closing Road Ready would put 40 employees out of work, including the people in the video. The businesses redeveloped a property that had languished for a few years, generating nothing but tall weeds for downtown Ansonia.
Saracino Wednesday was still searching for way out. He said he understands why women and veterans are angry.
According to the state’s judicial website, Road Ready filed for a temporary injunction in Superior Court Thursday in an attempt to stop the couple’s sustained protest.
In a court filing, Road Ready says the protest — and connected social media attention — has jeopardized the business “for a $521.45 expense which (Edwards) needlessly brought upon himself, and an insult to his girlfriend.”
“This is a vendetta now, and I don’t know why, but it got to that point on the third day,” Saracino said.
Ansonia police responded to the following calls for service at Road Ready between May 5 and May 9. A description of each call from police is listed below.
- May 5, 1:34 p.m.: Initial complaint from Road Ready about the protest, Road Ready advised protest was legal.
- May 7, 10:18 a.m.: Protesters called to report they were being harassed by the employees, Road Ready advised to keep their employees away from the protesters and the protesters were advised not to bother customers.
- May 7, 10:37 a.m.: Protesters reported being called names on outside intercom system, Road Ready advised to cease and desist.
- May 7, 12:56 p.m.: Protesters report a Road Ready employee yelled at them and called them names, employee issued “creating a public disturbance” infraction.
- May 7, 3:46 p.m.: Road Ready owner, Ronald Saracino, reported his picture was on protester Christopher Edwards’ Facebook page. Picture was a screenshot of Saracino’s Facebook page, Edwards removed picture.
- May 8, 8:53 a.m.: Complaint of cars parked on street without plates blocking to the view of protesters from street, all cars but 3 had dealer plates and the ones with no plates were removed from the street.
- May 8 2:58 p.m.: Edwards and Natalia Illas made a criminal complaint regarding an incident with several employees, the case in under investigation, no other details to be released at this time due to active investigation.