2 bodies found in burned home of retired teacher/coach and ailing wife;
Settlement just announced by CA Attorney General targets couple's lender for predatory lending practices--but relief is too late for Santee couple
By Miriam Raftery
January 3, 2011 (Santee) – Michael L. Cour, 60 and his wife, Janice Gervais, 70, faced a bleak future. The couple filed for bankruptcy June 30th. On December 6th, their lender, World Savings Bank, foreclosed on their property. A neighbor, Ruth Talaza, said Gervais had cancer and that the couple had tried multiple times to refinance, without success.
So Cour, who taught for 35 years in the Grossmont Union-High School District, told a neighbor that he was going to kill his wife and burn down their home on Clifford Heights Road, a quiet cul-de-sac in Santee. Soon after, a man called 911 to say he’d shot his wife and set fire to the home. He also threatened to shoot anyone if they tried to stop the inferno.
Firefighters were forced to stand back while Sheriff’s deputies armed with rifles cordoned off the neighborhood, listening to what sounded like ammunition exploding inside the home. Realizing the house was a total loss, firefighters focused on saving neighboring homes, one of which was damaged by the blaze.
Sunday night, a charred male body was found in the rubble. A second body, female, was located today. The coroner has not officially identified the bodies, but the birth date on the male body matches Cour’s birth date.
Catherine Martin, spokesperson for the Grossmont Union High School District, confirmed that Cour started working for the District in 1973 and retired in 2008 from the El Cajon Adult Education School. “We decline to comment further,” she said. A person answering the phone at El Cajon Adult Education confirmed, “He was our high school GED teacher,” then referred the call to the principal, who declined to speak without permission from the District. A Los Angeles Times article stated that property records indicated Cour also taught at Grossmont High School in El Cajon.
How did things go so wrong for a couple whose sentiments are enshrined permanently in a brick at San Diego's downtown Padres ballpark with an inscription that reads "MIKE COUR LOVES JAN GERVAIS FOREVER 11-15-75." (The brick is located in the park's snow cone quadrant, according to a Major League Baseball website.) Cour apparently enjoyed athletics and once participated in West Region Masters Track and Field Championships at San Diego State university in 2001, at age 51.
A graduate of Helix High School's class of 1968, Cour's profile at Classmates.com indicates he lettered in varsity, cross country and track, later graduating from San Diego State University. The Classmates.com entry further states"Over past 35 years: head track coach at Mt. Miguel, El Cajon, Henry, Helix. Compete in masters track (decathlon). Teach at El Cajon HS. Published books—Appaloosa Spring, Ol' 54—hope to make into movies. Artist—metal sculpture and acrylics—American Indian art, since I am half Cherokee."
According to Patch.com in Santee, Cour was also an author. His book, Apaloosa Spring, reviewed on amazon.com, included this note:
"Michael (ML) Cour is the true renaissance man: painter, sculpture, writer (novels~ film scripts, plays), musician and athlete (an accomplished distance runner and decathlete). Michael graduated with honors from San Diego State University with a BA and teaching degree in physical education, social studies and physical science. Michael's Cherokee heritage is a major influence in his writings and contemporary artwork. His hobby is Native American studies; he speaks Cherokee. Writing runs in his blood. Gore Vidal and Al Gore are cousins (common great-great-grandparents). To date, Michael has nearly 20 other novels, scripts, and plays in progress."
But yesterday, one day after the New Year dawned, Cour hit rock bottom. “He told me they’re being kicked out of their home and they were both laid off from their jobs,” Taloza said, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The couple’s lender, World Savings Bank, was the subject of a CBS 60 Minutes report titled “World of Trouble” as well as federal and state investigations into alleged predatory lending practices. The 60 Minutes show focused on allegations made by Paul Bishop, a mortgage salesman at World Savings in San Francisco who reportedly warned World Savings that “You know we’re breaking the law…you’re granting too many people loans who simply can’t qualify…We’re sitting on an Enron…If housing drops, housing value drops, people start to default, you know? This is a nightmare. These people will not survive it.” Bishop later lost an arbitration.
But other investigations have been launched--and California found fault with World Savings loans that in some cases, failed to have payments cover even the monthly interest, let along principal. Loan would reset, increasing payments dramatically--putting thousands of homeowners into default.
Ironically, California Attorney General’s Jerry Brown (who was sworn in as Governor today) on December 20th announced a $2 billion settlement with Wells Fargo over loans generated by World Savings Bank and Wachovia, which has acquired World Savings Bank. (None of the loans were made by Wells Fargo.) According to Brown, customers of World Savings and Wachovia were offered pick-a-pay “adjustable rate loans with payments that mushroomed to amounts that ultimately thousands of borrowers could not afford.”
Under the settlement, loan modifications will be offered to an estimated 14,900 California borrowers with pick-a-pay loans from World Savings and Wachovia—and many of those modifications will include loan forgiveness. California borrowers eligible for loan modifications should be notified in the next two months, while borrowers who already suffered foreclosures should be notified during the first six months this year.
Whether Cour and Gervais would have been eligible for those loan modifications or loan forgiveness is unclear. But if so, relief comes too late to forestall the tragedy that has claimed two lives, sending a couple’s home and future up in smoke.