TORRANCE — When a Torrance man paid an overdue bill last month, he didn't realize it would make him famous.
Retired carpenter Herbert A. Hopkins, while cleaning out his garage recently, came across an invoice dated May 23, 1938, from the city of Los Angeles, asking $7.66 for damages to public property. Hopkins, 64, said that when he found it, he recalled the night back in April, 1938, when he was driving through Griffith Park with his high school sweetheart.
Hopkins said he had turned off the lights on his 1927 Model T Ford because the park had closed for the night. In the dark, he struck and damaged the park gate.
A park employee spotted the car and reported the accident. The teen-aged Hopkins promptly received an invoice for the gate repair--$6.52 in labor costs and $1.14 for materials--which he ignored, as he did a second notice.
But when Hopkins found the bill 47 years later, he called the city attorney's office.
"I asked where to send my check, but they didn't have it on the books anymore. A young girl asked me who signed the letter. I told her it was Robert A. Todd. She said, 'We don't have anybody like that here.' It was ancient history."
Hopkins mailed his check anyway and, a few days later, Ted Goldstein of the city attorney's office called to ask if he could publicize the story.
Since then, Hopkins' friends and neighbors have been calling to kid him about the forgotten bill. "They think it's funny," he said. "They say I should be more prompt."
Newspaper and radio reports have spread his celebrity beyond the South Bay.
"My nephew's wife in Sunnymead listened to the news this morning," Hopkins said on Tuesday. "She was drinking her coffee, heard my name and almost fell out of her chair. She called and said, 'How come Herb is in the news?' "
But Hopkins is not completely comfortable with his new-found fame. His name has never appeared in the newspaper before, he said, and when a TV station offered to send around a camera crew Tuesday, Hopkins declined. "Let them save that for someone who's done something good," he said.
Hopkins' wife of 18 years, Patricia, hasn't minded all the fuss over her husband's escapade with an old girlfriend. "She's shown the story to all her friends and laughed," Hopkins said.