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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

TX Tow Company's Fees Draw Outrage

Here's the story from the Corpus Christi Caller Times:

— Four groups of anglers got an unwelcome surprise when they returned from fishing Saturday at Padre Island National Seashore. Their vehicles had been towed and the tow truck operator demanded $2,500 cash to release them.

“It was like “Hand over your wallet,’” said Matt Yankee of Corpus Christi, whose vehicle remains impounded.

The trucks weren’t stuck in the sand, where they would become victims of shifting tides or loose sand. They were parked illegally because the Bird Island Boat Ramp lot was full when they arrived well before dawn.

“It’s not like we were blocking a fire hydrant or a hospital entrance,” said Randy Donato, a Houston-based lawyer and owner of a home in Port Aransas. “This needs to be stopped.”

Sanford Amey, owner of Sanford’s Wrecker Service, says he charged that much because he has expensive equipment and the charges reflected the difficulty of the job.

“Everybody wants to break the law, then they want to go cry to the media,” Amey said. “The park rangers will tell you the same thing.”

Amey said he charges by the pound.

The trucks he impounded Saturday were of different makes and weights, but the price was the same: $2,500. Asked about this, Amey responded:

“It could have been more, but I was giving them a deal.”

Within the city of Corpus Christi, where wrecker fees are limited, that same towing job would have cost about $115, according to Aaron Rios, who oversees tow truck operators for the Corpus Christi Police Department.

Amey is correct that he can charge whatever he wants. Cities and counties in Texas have the power to regulate maximum fees for non-consensual towing. Kleberg County, where most of the park is located, hasn’t done so. Amey has told the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation that he could charge as much as $20,000 to tow a vehicle.

David Resendez, owner of Apollo Towing, also charges by the pound. He said if he had been called to remove the vehicles, the most he would have charged is about $700. That assumes the worst weather conditions and the heaviest truck being towed.

As far as the cost of Amey’s services reflecting the value of equipment?

“I challenge you to find anyone in South Texas with higher overhead than me,” Resendez said.

Park Rangers at the National Seashore were also surprised by the bills Amey charged.

“This is the type of fee we see when the tower has to go down the beach,” said Tim Thompson, supervisory ranger at the park.

Rangers picked Sanford’s Wrecking Service to tow the vehicles because it was the company’s turn. The park service maintains a list of nine tow truck companies and rotates weekly which company will be called. Amey maintains two of the companies on the list — the other is called Amey’s Wrecker Service.

Thompson said the park service is considering removing the companies from the towing list. To do so, the park service would have to find something that violated Texas regulations. Because these fees don’t violate regulations, that might be difficult.

“We understand the frustration here,” Thompson said.

For those whose trucks were towed, finding out their cars were gone was only the beginning of the challenge. Nobody was around to tell them what had happened to their vehicles.

The Bird Island boat ramp area doesn’t have cell service, so the boat owners had to ride from the seashore to Marker 37 Marina under the JFK Causeway.

“We weren’t prepared for that, so we ran out of gas,” said Mitchell Smith, a friend of Yankee’s.

Their boat ended up getting a tow from Dan Love, owner of an Atascosa County pest control business.

“They stranded 10 people,” said Lee Love, who had to travel from Rockport to pick up her husband.

A bill in the Texas Legislature could put limits on what towing companies can charge. The bill, which has passed both the House and Senate, would allow the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to establish those maximum fees.


Anonymous said...

Each person towed should contact the state attorney general about price gouging. Each individual should file a law suit forcing Sanford to have to fight each one. He wants cash, report him to the IRS. This guy has to be taken out of the towing service by any means possible Put up a bill board posting his name and a list of charges this guy has imposed on the public. Corpus can not tolerate this behavior. It kills toursim. He must go.

Anonymous said...

Just yesterday (May 31, 2009), our car died while camping on Padre Island National Seashore. The park ranger called Sanford Ammey's wrecking service. When he got there, he told us it would be $2800 to tow us off the beach. We had no cell phone service out there to call anyone else. Our only choice was to pay or stay stranded! And then when we didn't want him to tow our car to his auto repair shop, he dropped us off in the parking lot of a closed buidling even though he saw we had our 5 year old daughter with us! It was dark and scary, and we were just shocked. That man has to be the most unethical and horrible human being we've ever met.

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