On the afternoon of March 19, 57-year-old Karla Rehberg was driving westbound on I-94 through downtown Minneapolis near the 11th Street exit when she saw traffic in front of her braking to a stop. She followed suit -- only to get rear-ended by a flashy white Camaro.
The force of the impact propelled her car into the back of the car in front of her. But thankfully, neither she nor her passenger -- her boyfriend's elderly mother -- were seriously hurt. (Rehberg claims she's been experiencing neck discomfort recently, however.)
Rehberg and the driver of the Camaro exchanged insurance information, and at first, his name -- Simoni Lawrence -- meant nothing to her. Only later, following some Googling, did she realize Lawrence, 24, was the 2009 defensive captain of the Gophers football team (read a gushing September 2009 Pioneer Press profile of him here) and had spent a bit of time on NFL rosters (without ever playing a game) before moving on to the Canadian Football League.
[jump] On the shoulder of I-94, Lawrence gave Rehberg his Geico insurance card. But when Rehberg called Geico to follow up, she was informed Lawrence hadn't paid his premiums and wasn't covered.
He may not have had insurance, but according to Rehberg, he had at one time or another owned an impressive fleet of vehicles.
"Geico started naming all these cars because he had a policy with them, and I thought they were actually just naming off categories of cars," she said.
Damage to Rehberg's 2010 Honda Fit was estimated to be upwards of $3,000. Her insurance deductible is $750, but as a self-employed Uptown-area hairdresser, Rehberg didn't want to dip into her own funds or risk having her insurance premiums go up in order to pay for an accident caused by a professional athlete (the average CFL salary is $82,500).
So she contacted Lawrence to figure out what was going on. According to her account of their conversation, Lawrence explained that "there were problems with his insurance," but said he would be able to compensate her in cash for the more than $3,000 in damage to her car once he received his next CFL check. He estimated it'd be a couple of months before he could pay up.
Rehberg was skeptical, but agreed to wait. She asked Lawrence to call her every week (she doesn't have texting on her phone) until he paid in hopes that'd keep him accountable. And sure enough, for most of the next couple of months, Lawrence called (Rehberg saved some of the voicemails).
Then, in May, Lawrence called and explained he'd be leaving Minneapolis to visit his mother. That would be the last Rehberg would hear from him, though she learned via his social media accounts that he's up in Canada playing for the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
She also learned, via his Twitter, that he apparently had enough dough to repair the damage done to his Camaro when he rear-ended her:
Rehberg's Honda Fit remains driveable, and she says that if push absolutely came to shove she could afford to pay her deductible, get her car repaired, and hope her premiums don't go up.
"If this was a person who I knew had nothing -- look, I know life isn't fair," she said. "I know he's able to [pay] for this, and that's probably where I'm struggling with it."
"But the main thing that bothers me is his attitude," she continued, pointing out that Lawrence's Twitter profile proclaims, "jesus leads me i follow deeper then twitter tho" and that he includes the hashtag #godfirst in many of his tweets. (In fact, Rehberg has taken to calling him Simoni "Godfirst" Lawrence.)
"I thought, you know, if you're trying to keep humble for the Lord, I'm not sure this is the route I'd take," Rehberg said.
City Pages called Lawrence and contacted him on Twitter to get his side of this story. Here's what he had to say:
@atrupar yea gimme 5 months when I'm back in the country-- Simoni Lawrence (@Simoni_Lawrence) August 7, 2013
Later that same evening, Lawrence broke his silence and sent Rehberg this Facebook message:
@atrupar thanks sir it's all good do what you have to do-- Simoni Lawrence (@Simoni_Lawrence) August 7, 2013
-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]