Pep Boys

ONTARIO -- Ontario police are investigating an allegation that a Pep Boys employee falsely reported they had tested positive for COVID-19, a report that triggered a deluge of local social media attention.

"We are in the very early stages of the investigation," Ontario police Lt. Tony Grimwood said Thursday morning.

The claim led Pep Boys to temporarily close its 490 S. Lexington-Springmill Road store and notify other employees and customers who had visited the facility within the past 14 days.

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It also created a social media stir around the county the past few days, leading Richland Public Health officials to announce Tuesday no COVID-19 positive test for a Pep Boys employee had been received.

Laura Soave, executive vice president of marketing at Ichahn Automotive Group, which operates Pep Boys, confirmed the investigation.

"It's very unfortunate, but we are kind of relieved that the (report) was false and none of our employees or customers were endangered," Soave told Richland Source.

Ontario Mayor Randy Hutchinson declined comment, saying the situation was under investigation.

"I am just just glad the test was negative and that they got this matter resolved," the mayor said.

Potential charges could include inducing panic (Ohio Revised Code 2917.31) and/or making false alarms (ORC 2917.32)

Soave, who said the local location re-opened today, said the company reacted to the employee's claim in a manner directed by medical officials by closing the store, sanitizing the facility and notifying employees and customers.

"We are all trying to do the best we can (with coronavirus) as the situation changes day to day and minute to minute," she said. "The employee is no longer with us and the matter is in the hands of the authorities."

Soave said Ontario police heard of the store's closing and contacted Richland Public Health, which informed authorities no such positive test had been reported, triggering the investigation.

In the statement released by Pep Boys, the company said they "deeply apologize for the concern and inconvenience that the notification of a positive report caused."

The statement said Pep Boys will continue to work with the Ontario Mayor's office, Richland Public Health and Ontario police as the investigation continues.

"We now know that the employee who previously informed us of a positive COVID-19 test did so with a falsified report and at the time of the report, the employee had NOT testified positive for COVID-19," the statement said.

"In these challenging times, it is especially unfortunate that someone would intentionally deceive the community, their coworkers and our company, and that significant scarce resources were dedicated to a false report," the statement said.

"At the time of the report, we were acting with the best information we had, in accordance with (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines and with the community's best interests at heart," the statement said.

"We're taking the important step of updating all customers and have been authorized to re-open the store. The safety and well-being of our customers is and remains our highest priority. We want to thank the local authorities for all their support and all they continue to do for our community," the statement said.

 

City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"