On Your Side Investigation: Grieving family doesn’t get donations from Springfield restaurant fundraiser

Thai Express owner, Patrick Nett, says he messed up and was irresponsible. He apologizes and promises to give donations.
Published: Jan. 9, 2023 at 9:28 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A grieving couple is asking, what happened? There was a fundraiser in honor of their little girl who died in a drowning accident. Months later, the family tells On Your Side, they never got the money and never heard from the business owner who collected the donations. But Ashley Reynolds got a hold of him and got his explanation.

In May, Tim Huynh and Nancy Nguyen lost their three-year-old daughter, Mackenzie.

“She fought hard. It was so hard on her body. She was in the water a little too long,” said Nancy.

In their home, time stands still. Mackenzie’s room is untouched.

“When I walk by, I imagine her being on her bed or playing with her toys. I just leave it the way it is,” said Nancy.

“Maybe I’m in denial, but it makes me feel better to know her stuff is here. I want to keep it,” said Tim.

She’s a big sister to two-year-old, Miles.

“I just imagine Mackenzie is playing with her brother. Just leave everything there,” said Nancy.

A family member started a GoFundMe page. It was shared on a popular Springfield Facebook group, by Patrick Nett, owner of Thai Express. He pledged, during the week of May 16, his restaurant would donate 5% of sales that week, have a donation jar and people could donate on their tab.

Screenshot: Mackenzie GoFundMe post
Screenshot: Mackenzie GoFundMe post(KY3)

“At first, I was happy that he was promoting our daughter and trying to help us out,” said Tim.

In the post, Nett says he’ll try to contact the family. They don’t know each other.

“No contact whatsoever. No Facebook messenger. No text or email. No call sending his condolences ... Nothing,” said Nancy.

“Maybe he’ll reach out. He’s a busy guy,” said Tim.

Patrick Nett says he plans on paying the family.
Patrick Nett says he plans on paying the family.(KY3)

“Two weeks, three weeks, six weeks, I was getting really concerned,” said Nancy.

A few weeks later, their cousin comments under the post, asking about the money. Nett said he’d reach out the next week to give the family the donation.

“Patrick kept all the proceeds of the fundraiser and did not contact us. We did not get any payment. We are very concerned about that. Mortified, to be honest,” said Nancy.

Patrick Nett responds to family member
Patrick Nett responds to family member(KY3)

In July, Nett got a certified letter from an attorney wanting an explanation and got no response. In September, a copy of the same letter was hand-delivered. The attorney tells On Your Side Nett called. They played phone tag, but the attorney says he was never able to leave a voicemail because Nett’s inbox was full. Nett did not formally respond to the letter or contact the family.

Demand for explanation letter sent to Nett.
Demand for explanation letter sent to Nett.(KY3)

“We want others to know what truly happened. Everybody up until this point believed he donated money to us,” said Tim.

“To not hear a word from Patrick. I just can’t believe it,” said Nancy.

Ashley Reynolds called the restaurant and heard back from Nett in twenty minutes. He agreed to talk.

“This is full honesty. I messed up. I was unorganized. I was irresponsible. I had so much going on and it slipped my mind. That’s the full truth. Truthfully speaking, I was a mess this year. Moving locations and having a lot of problems. We had water heater issues. We could barely open. We had a lot of financial struggles and challenges,” said Nett.

Reynolds asked, “How much money did people donate?”

“I don’t have the exact amount,” said Nett. “I want to say there’s $30 to $40 in that jar. People could donate through credit cards, we had that option. But we didn’t have one. The 5% of sales. Just a rough average probably would have equated to just under $2,000.”

Reynolds asked, “How do we know this?”

“I could share all the POS (point-of-sale) details if they have an attorney involved,” said Nett. “If we really had to go that far where they needed the proof. I’m not going to hide anything. I’m more than willing to show paperwork and documentation and sales and stuff.”

Nett has a following on social media. He often organizes fundraisers. Just a few weeks ago, he was collecting donations that were sent to his personal Paypal and CashApp to help an employee buy a car.

“It’s kind of in good faith ... and my reputation is I’m always out to help somebody. Hopefully, that’s enough. That’s all I can ask for,” said Nett.

Reynolds asked, “Then why not create a separate account or even a 501c3?”

“I was in the moment,” Nett replied. “This is literally moments before our rush was going to hit. I just didn’t have the time to think all this through. In the future, I might have -- I could create a second account. Maybe create it where multiple staff and managers have access to it so they can hold me accountable.”

“He took advantage of my daughter’s untimely death, and just took advantage of us during this difficult time just to purely promote his business,” said Nancy.

“That’s not the intention at all. I’m sorry she feels that way. I’m not sure if there’s anything I can say or do to change her mind. It was my poor execution. I’m really sorry to the family I didn’t handle this better. For everyone watching, I will do better in the future,” said Nett.

Mackenzie: the three-year-old daughter of Tim Huynh and Nancy Nguyen.
Mackenzie: the three-year-old daughter of Tim Huynh and Nancy Nguyen.(KY3)

“There’s no amount of money that can relieve the tremendous amount of grief that we are dealing with right now and to know somebody has taken advantage of our tragedy is just really hard. We don’t want it to happen to anyone else,” said Nancy.

On Your Side taped the interview with Patrick Nett nearly two weeks ago. On Monday, we asked for an update on the money. Nett said the couple’s attorney told him, they would reach out after they hear what Nett had to say to KY3 News.

But, the attorney says that’s not true and Nett was supposed to reach out. The couple says at this point, they’re not interested in the money, just the explanation. Nett promised he plans to give the money once he gets instructions from the attorney.

We will update you when we hear more.

Before you give, make sure you know and trust the organizer of the fundraiser. When you give to a charity, here are resources that break down tax records so you can see how much of your money really goes to the cause.

https://www.charitynavigator.org

https://give.org

To report a correction or typo, please email digitalnews@ky3.com