At the very least, Darrell Fennell Sr. felt prepared.
For the past 24 years, as an employee at Ford Motors assembly plants in both Chicago and the Kansas City area, he had been making monthly life insurance payments for himself and his two children. He still remembers signing up for the service more than two decades ago, as he went through the hiring process figuring that, with a young family to look out for, it was best to be safe.
Just-in-case stuff, he called it.
So when he received the worst call of his life last week — news that his 30-year-old son, Darrell Fennell Jr., had been shot to death near the intersection of Truman Road and Woodland Avenue in Kansas City — the one thought the father clung to was that he could at least provide his child a proper burial.
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But what Fennell learned after calling his insurance company left him confused and irate.
The insurance policy, he said he was told, was no longer valid; it had been voided once his children turned 25. This, Fennell says, despite the fact that he had received no notification whatsoever that the policy would become void and had continued paying monthly premiums.
When Fennell, who currently works in Chicago, asked why deductions had continued to be made from his paycheck for years after his son had aged out of the policy, he says he was told it was his responsibility to contact his employer at the time his children became ineligible and cancel the service.
This week he showed The Star a digital pay stub dated Aug. 3, in which $27.45 had been deducted from his paycheck for a dependent life insurance plan.
The insurance company did, however, offer a consolation:
“They were going to (refund) me September’s premium,” Fennell said. “They were real generous.”
A spokeswoman for UniCare, whose parent company is based in Indiana, backed up the information Fennell said he received from the representative he initially spoke with.
“It’s on the policy, the form, that the policy covers children or dependents up to age 25,” said Donna Page. “And when that child ages out, (policy holders) need to notify their employer so the employer would stop making the deductions out of their paycheck. And then the employer would let us know that the dependent is no longer on the policy because of the age.”
Kimberly Parker, communications manager for the Illinois Department of Insurance, suggested Fennell file a complaint with the department, vowing to review the case.
She said it is not unheard of for an insurance company to only cover dependents to a certain age, and that her staff would need to determine how the premium was allocated. She said she was not aware of a notice requirement.
For the victim’s family, however, the news worsened an already nightmarish situation.
On Tuesday, inside the home of a family member, Fennell choked up recounting the phone call he was forced to make to his son’s mother after speaking with the insurance company.
“I feel like a sucker, man,” he said, choking back tears. “I had to call her and say, ‘Baby, I ain’t got it.’”
For much of the past week, the family scrambled to come up with the money for a funeral service and burial. On Tuesday morning, family gathered to try and figure out how to raise the money for a proper send-off for Darrell Fennell Jr., whose murder is still being investigated.
As of Wednesday, the family had managed to scrape together enough for a service and burial. A visitation will be held Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. at Bethel Baptist Church, 4300 E. 18th St., with a service following at 11 a.m.
The majority of the money came from a loan that will need to be paid back. Another $1,000 came from a friend of Fennell’s. And although the family might be eligible for assistance through Missouri’s Crime Victims’ Compensation Program — which reimburses crime victims who meet certain criteria, according to Missouri Department of Public Safety spokesman Mike O’Connell — the experience has done little to stifle Fennell’s anger.
“I barely have enough money left over to get me back home,” Fennell said.
To reach Dugan Arnett, call 816-234-4039 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.