Joe Abal is a man of many talents and interests.Crawfordville’s Joe of All TradesFrom accident reconstruction to auctions, Joe Abal’s interests are wide ranging

By Jason Dehart

When insurance companies and attorneys need an expert witness to show a jury exactly how an accident happened, they turn to the “A-Team.”

“A” for Abal, that is. As in Joseph A. Abal and Associates.

Joe Abal, 57, is a burly, energetic, multi-talented guy from Crawfordville. Not only is he a certified forensic transportation and safety consultant with 28 years of experience, but he’s also a licensed real estate auctioneer and motorcycle buff. He runs his businesses from a 30-acre compound just off Highway 267, where he has his own motorcycle repair shop.

{mosimage} Along with business partner Betty Evans – former executive director of the Dade Citizens Safety Council in Miami – Abal has reconstructed thousands of auto and motorcycle accidents since he first got into that line of work in 1980.

“I used to work for the state, but I got bored with it,” Abal said. “I’ve been doing accident reconstruction since then. But the real estate auctioning is the main thing we do these days. As a result, we’re very picky about the forensic work we take.”

However, automotive forensics is no less fascinating.

He and Evans used to travel around the country doing this, but in recent years have limited their jobs to Florida and the Southeast. Their customized 1986 Chevy G-20 enclosed van is replete with a 350-cubic inch engine, three-speed turbo GM transmission, chrome mag wheels and leather seats, and is packed with all kinds of fact-finding gizmos and measuring gadgets.

Like everything else around him, the van has a story to tell.

“It has 340,000 miles on it. It’s had three engines, two transmissions and three pairs of driver’s and passenger bucket seats,” Abal said. “It can go real fast, but I don’t exceed the posted speed limit in the course of my professional work.”

With gizmos on hand, and with a little help from silver “black boxes” (factory-installed on many late-model GM and Ford products to gather mechanical data), Abal and Evans can track physical evidence, calculate distance, time and speed, and completely retrace the steps of an auto accident.

When cold, hard data aren’t enough, Abal will make scale models of trucks, cars, tractor-trailer combinations and even forklifts to get a better feel for how an accident damages a vehicle and the people within. Many of these models line the wall behind Abal’s big office desk. Aerial color photos taken by helicopter and transparent overlays also are used, especially in court, to show juries what happened.

“Juries tie in better with photos,” he said.

And it’s a system that works. One time, Abal investigated a tragic accident involving a motorcycle and a truck. The motorcycle driver was crippled and his female passenger was killed. The truck driver said the motorcycle crossed the road’s center line and sideswiped him, and the cyclist went to jail – adding insult to grievous injury. But when Abal stepped in and put his know-how and talent to work, he proved it was the truck, not the cycle, that crossed the line. Justice prevailed.

“The motorcycle driver was exonerated,” he said.

Abal used to work for the Florida Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles and then for the Florida Department of Transportation. He met Evans in the late 1970s during the course of his job, which involved inspecting and monitoring driving programs such as hers. When Evans retired in 1994, she and her husband, Gale, came to Tallahassee. Gale consults Abal on litigation matters concerning highway safety and roadway work-zone safety.

Abal became enamored of Evans’ line of work and, being a successful businesswoman, she set him up with his own plan for becoming an accident reconstruction guru.

“Betty ran a multimillion-dollar business for 30 years in Miami, and I trust her,” he said.

The plan called for intensive training and certification. Classes in applied science, engineering and forensic physics were the order of the day.

Despite that, “It was an easy conversion for him,” Evans said.

As time passed, Abal and Evans developed another plan. They became auctioneers, and recently moved into the realm of real estate auctioneering – a lucrative business. Abal said that in 2004, it was a $240-billion business nationwide.

“Land and agricultural lots are the hot-selling items,” he said. “A lot of farmland is being sold because it’s being developed into residential communities.

“Betty and I have been avid auction-goers for 10 to 12 years,” Abal said. “They’re great fun, and you get to meet a lot of nice people. There are also some unique things out there. I even buy my vehicles that way. I don’t ever pay retail for a vehicle.”

When he first got into the auction business selling ordinary items, Abal learned that auctioneers must be helpful and willing to go that extra mile to help clients.

“Our goal is represent our sellers/consignors to the best of our ability, and hopefully max out the fair market value for their goods,” he said.

Sometimes, though, Abal comes to the aid of other auctioneers.

“For example, with the recent hurricane problems, one of our friends in West Palm Beach was in trouble because the hotel where he planned on having an auction got slammed. He had to do a two-day auction in one day, so we went down there and helped him,” Abal said. “We also did a ‘eBay Live’ thing – my first time doing a live auction over the Internet. So it was a learning thing for me. We took no pay for that. We were glad to help out a fellow auctioneer who needed it.”

But there are other loves in Abal’s life. He’s a fan of Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles, as well as Corvette sports cars. When it comes to Harleys, he owns Panheads, Shovelheads and twin-cams. He still has his very first Harley, a 1973 Sportster that’s been ridden all over the country. His Harley of choice these days is a 1999 Road King.

“I love to ride,” he said. “I’ll take a 10,000-mile trip every summer.”

His personal garage is part work space and part museum. The museum section has lots of motorcycle and muscle car collectibles and memorabilia lining shelves from floor to ceiling.

“I have Harley cans, advertising signs – even an entire line of Harley Barbies,” Abal said. “I bought a lot of this stuff from auction. I’ve got license plates, oil cans, and over here I have an entire set of original Indian motorcycle tools.”

He even has a Harley-Davidson comic book. Like everything else, it has a story to tell.

A centerfold art piece depicting two futuristic concept Harleys was drawn by legendary automotive genius Larry Shinoda, who designed the 1963 Corvette Stingray.

Shinoda’s Harley art never saw the light of day. Volume 1, No. 1 was published in 1988 but never released for sale.

“Harley told Mr. Shinoda they would not pay his artist fee, and no other issues were ever published,” Abal said.

Abal met Shinoda in 1993 at a National Corvette Restorers Society  Convention in Bloomington, Ill. He asked the ailing designer to sign the centerfold. Shinoda, he said, was shocked to see the artwork in the comic. Apparently, he didn’t know it had been used. It was a bittersweet revelation for Shinoda, who died in 1997 at the age of 67.

Another interesting item on display is a massive Harley sign that once sat atop a high pole in front of a Savannah, Ga., dealership.

“We bought it at a swap meet. But it wasn’t until we got it home and were cleaning it up when we discovered that somebody had used black spray paint to cover the “AMF” logo at the bottom,” he said. “Evidently, somebody didn’t like it that AMF took over Harley-Davidson, and crawled up there and sprayed it.”

It’s hard these days for Abal to work on his restoration projects. The auction business takes him away a lot, so he hasn’t had much down time to play.

“I have many motorcycle and Corvette restoration projects going on, but the auction business is so busy, many of them are sitting dormant,” he said. “And, I’m the only one I trust to do the work properly. I can’t find anybody reliable enough to help me.”

Said Evans, “It’s just so technical that there aren’t too many people out there who can do it.”

Laying about like a seamstress’ sewing projects are a 1946 Indian that needs work, a 1958 fuel-injected Corvette and a 1966 427 Corvette.

“This particular Corvette even has the famous ‘rock crusher’ transmission,” Abal said. “It’s a very sought-after convertible. I’ll end up replacing every nut and bolt on the frame.”

The car also has a deeper history. Its original owner is far from anonymous.

“As a forensic investigator, I get paid to find things,” Abal said. “So I found the original owner. He lives in Ohio. He was shocked to learn his first car was still in existence. It was the car he had when he was dating his future wife.”

The previous owner stopped in to see the old car while visiting family in Florida, Abal said.

“He was so moved that he presented me with the original pamphlets and brochure, along with a pin and a letter from GM,” he said. “He wouldn’t take any money for it.”

Evans said the man was overwhelmed and that it brought back a lot of memories.

“He remembered the car was so powerful that one time he lost control and they went into a raspberry patch,” she said. “No damage was done, but they spent days cleaning it.”

Ironically, it was a Corvette that got Abal into the restoration and forensics business.

In 1970, during the Vietnam War, his brother was a Marine shipping home to Washington, D.C. The brother was driving home and bought a used 1964 Corvette. Driving along a familiar two-lane road in Clarion, Pa., he was hit by a drunk driver.

“Yet it was my brother who was charged,” Abal said. “My mom and I talked to the police and looked at the report. We did our own investigation. We told the police they were wrong.”

However, that didn’t sit well with the Pennsylvania State Police.

“They threatened to arrest us if we didn’t leave,” he said. “They would not reopen the investigation.”

Abal took the wounded ’Vette home and restored it.

“I still own it,” he said.

But perhaps Abal’s most prized possession of all isn’t a motorcycle or muscle car. It’s a wooden wine press that once belonged to his father.

Abal’s parents left Spain during the Spanish Civil War and came to America, where they continued their cultural traditions. One of those is winemaking, Abal said.

“Growing up, my dad used to make homemade wine using this press. He used to make 600 gallons of red and 400 gallons of white wine each year,” he said. “When he died in 1972, it was sold to a schoolteacher who didn’t do anything with it. It was stored in a boathouse on Lake Erie.”

Three years ago, though, Abal learned of its location and bought it back.

“It’s now here with me again, after all these years,” Abal said. “That history is very important to my family.”

Don’t expect to get a tour of the place. Abal’s “museum” and garage are strictly for personal enjoyment and are not open to the public. In fact, security is pretty tight, because litigation evidence often is stored on-site. Fences, iron gates and a watchman deter curious trespassers.

“If I don’t know you personally, you don’t get on the property,” Abal said. “It’s only open to those I choose.”


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