A Bluffton tow truck driver is recovering after being stabbed in the abdomen Friday night. He was in an area where residents and the property management have an ongoing dispute about parking enforcement.
Preston Oates, owner of Pro Tow, was in the process of towing a vehicle in Shady Glen Mobile Home Park just before 11 p.m. Friday when tenants of the home on Shady Glen Circle confronted him, authorities said.
An altercation ensued, ending with Oates being stabbed. Oates said the knife went about 10 inches into his body, narrowly missing a kidney and other organs. He was taken to Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, where he underwent surgery over the weekend.
A detective is trying to sort out who stabbed Oates and find the weapon that was used, said Cpl. Robin McIntosh, spokeswoman for the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
No charges have been filed.
Oates said he identified the two men he thinks are responsible.
Shady Glen, a neighborhood of narrow streets and small driveways just outside of old town Bluffton, has been the scene of a recurring clash between residents, the property manager and Pro Tow, which has a contract to enforce parking rules.
Last month, residents of the mostly Hispanic neighborhood protested the towing and booting of about 15 vehicles that were improperly parked on the streets and in front yards.
Several deputies tried to keep the peace, while the residents lamented having to pay up to $385 to get back their cars.
Oates has been accused of using aggressive tactics on several occasions, most recently in July. In that incident, he was charged with three counts of assault with intent to kill and other weapons violations after allegedly firing a gun at three men during a repossession gone wrong at Rollers Mobile Home Park on Hilton Head Island. The bullets inadvertently went into a trailer with a family sleeping inside.
Oates maintains he was protecting himself from the three men, who he said were armed with sticks, beer bottles and a semi-automatic handgun.
About a month later, one of the men -- 18-year-old Eric Hagen, who lived in the mobile home park -- was charged with robbing five men at gunpoint.
The cases against Hagen and Oates are pending.
Oates, who often carries a holstered weapon, said he did not have his gun Friday when he was stabbed.
He said he fears retaliation and hasn't gone back to his job.
"On July 16, I defended myself and ended up in jail," Oates said. "On Friday, I didn't defend myself and ended up in the hospital. What am I supposed to do?"