Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Proposed Towing Policy In Dallas

Here's the story from the Dallas Morning News:
Dallas County is moving forward with plans to contract with a company or companies willing to pay for the right to tow and store cars for the sheriff and five constables.

Currently, county law enforcement agencies use their own wrecker services and storage lots with separate policies and procedures.

County commissioners want to professionalize towing and vehicle-impound operations by implementing uniform procedures in written contracts, which are not currently used.

But coming up with a system for multiple agencies located across the county with different needs is proving to be a challenge. The county hopes to award contracts by the start of the next fiscal year in October.

The move was prompted by concerns about aggressive and unsupervised towing operations in two constable precincts

Constables Jaime Cortes and Derick Evans are towing and impounding thousands of vehicles every year – mostly in southern Dallas County – using primarily one company and with no record-keeping to indicate what ultimately happens to the vehicles.

The Sheriff's Department, which responds to freeway accidents across much of the county, has wanted contracts to govern the towing of vehicles. The department's traffic division has expanded in recent years to handle the workload.

'Not a simple thing'

County staff met with constables and sheriff's officials last week to discuss the issue. Everyone agrees that a uniform policy is needed, said Shannon Brown, assistant Commissioners Court administrator.

"It's not a simple thing. But there was no one who said, 'We're not doing it,' " she said.

Brown said the plan is to seek proposals from towing companies that are willing to pay the county for each vehicle impounded. State law allows police agencies to receive a fee for overseeing such operations.

County officials said contractors would be willing to pay the county up to $100 per vehicle. Towing for police agencies is a lucrative business because of the volume of cars involved and the fact that state law allows companies to charge motorists a towing fee as well as daily vehicle-storage fees.

Joann Messina, an owner of Southwest Auto Tow in Dallas, submitted a proposal last year that would guarantee the county $75,000 a month based on an estimate of 2,000 vehicles towed per month.

Messina said her company complies with legal reporting requirements and hires an auctioneer to dispose of abandoned vehicles.

"Their biggest problem now is they have no idea where these cars are going," she said about some county towing operations.

Commissioner Kenneth Mayfield said during a recent meeting that he wants to make sure the county's towing and storage companies are properly licensed and insured and that they follow the law.

"I'm not looking to make money," he said.

Piggyback with city?

Another option is to piggyback on city contracts that are already in place. The city of Dallas operates its own impound lot, but most other cities contract for the service, Brown said.

More than 9,800 vehicles were towed just by constables last year. But each agency has its own policies.

"As Dallas County has expanded efforts in traffic enforcement and freeway management, a need has developed to consolidate and standardize the process for towing and impounding vehicles," a county briefing report said.

That will ensure that people whose vehicles are towed and impounded will have a "predictable and fair experience with Dallas County," the report said.

Because the constable precincts are spread out across the county, staff is looking at a model in which the county is divided into zones that match precinct boundaries. Contracts then could be awarded to companies to handle towing in those zones, Brown said.

That would improve wrecker response times, which all law enforcement representatives agree is important, Brown said. The agencies, she said, have asked that a 15-minute response time be a requirement in any contract.

Brown said contracts have to address different needs. For example, the constables often seize items involved in legal disputes before the justice of the peace courts that need to be stored somewhere safe.

And investigators need a place to store vehicles and other property that are connected to crimes, Brown said.

Precinct 3 Constable Ben Adamcik said he would like to see contracts with several towing and storage companies to ensure quicker response times.

"Officers don't like to sit by the side of the road," he said. "I want somebody who is honest and has insurance, licenses and the equipment to handle the job."

Cortes and Evans both rely heavily on Dowdy Ferry Auto Services to tow and impound vehicles, but they've acknowledged they don't know what's happening to those vehicles.

State law requires that owners be told in writing where to go to recover their vehicles. If they don't, the vehicles are considered abandoned after a period of time and can be auctioned. But Dowdy Ferry, which is being investigated by state regulators, doesn't auction abandoned vehicles, according to the owner.

Cortes and Evans both say they are open to a county towing and storage contract. But they said they intend to keep using Dowdy Ferry unless it's found that the company has violated the law.

Evans said a state investigator advised him to ask Dowdy Ferry for some kind of documentation showing what's happening to impounded vehicles, which he said he will do.

• Firms would pay the county for the right to tow vehicles.

• The maximum response time would be 15 minutes.

• Firms awarded a contract would have exclusive towing rights to all calls from Dallas County within the county boundaries.

• Firms would pay a fee for each vehicle impounded at the county's request.

• The five-year contract could be canceled at any time.

• Firms must have at least five years' experience operating a wrecker service and at least three years' experience operating an auto pound.

• Contractors must provide service 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

• Contractors would be responsible for completing and maintaining all auction forms and vehicle registrations.

• The county may inspect the storage facility without prior notice at any time.

CA Tow Truck Association Applauds San Bernadino City Council

Here's the CTTA press release:
Palm Springs, CA, August 24, 2009 --(PR.com)-- The California Tow Truck Association (CTTA) applauds the San Bernardino City Council members who unanimously voted to reject the proposal presented by the San Bernardino Police Department to create a city run impound yard on Monday, August 17, 2009.

According to an article in the Contra Costa Times on August 17, 2009, the council voted 6-0 to reject the proposal. The initial proposal had generated strong opposition from San Bernardino towing contractors who expressed fear that the plan would force them to do without revenue sources that they need to survive.

“CTTA is pleased that the San Bernardino City Council unanimously voted to reject a city run impound yard. It appears that the City Council concluded that cities and counties should not be competing with private sector business and is sensitive to the small businesses that serve their community,” states Jeff Hunter, CTTA Executive Director.

Realizing that many towing companies have invested hundreds of thousands and in some cases millions of dollars purchasing equipment, land, and facilities to comply with the requirements to tow for cities and counties under current contracts, the CTTA Board of Directors is taking a strong stance in opposition to governmental entities engaging in unfair competition in the towing industry, and is currently exploring all avenues to assist privately owned towing companies in California to combat this growing trend.

“In these hard times and period of budget challenges, we applaud the principled approach the San Bernardino City Council chose to take to preserve, rather than destroy, small businesses in their community. Based on their decision to reject the proposal it appears that the members of the City Council realized that this was not the answer to deal with the city’s own structural deficit issues,” states CTTA President James Kruger. “Creating a new governmental program like a city-run tow yard would expand the bureaucracy and create a larger payroll for the city.”

“Cities and Counties must face the fact that destroying small businesses in their communities, ultimately destroys a vital means of production in a balanced economy. Cities and counties do not have the equipment, experience, or training to perform the wide variety of towing and storage services that our members provide. Cities and counties should take actions to create business opportunities that add sustainable value rather than destroying industries, which deliver public service to their communities. Most of our members are small businesses who have been serving their communities for decades,” declares CTTA President James Kruger.

“Cities and counties that open their own towing and/or storage business, in essence, are willing to have services diminished within the community. CTTA strongly encourages cities and counties currently contemplating entering the vehicle storage business to realize that this is not an appropriate resolution to assist in resolving their financial shortages. CTTA recommends that they take a closer look at the rationale used by the San Bernardino City Council when they voted unanimously to reject the proposal that was presented to them by the San Bernardino Police Chief,” expressed CTTA Executive Director, Jeff Hunter. “Our Association will continue to monitor this issue and evaluate appropriate measures to take to assist our over 1000 towing company members throughout California,” states Mr. Hunter.

About the California Tow Truck Association
Founded in 1969, the CTTA was established to provide a means of united efforts in the solution of problems, and to administer such action as might be deemed necessary to benefit the towing industry, to communicate with government agencies on a state and local basis, and to provide a concerted effort toward giving the Towing Industry a better public image and the professional status it deserves.

WV Tower Charged In Fatal Hit and Run

Here's the story from the Charleston Daily Mail:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Cross Lanes woman has been charged in the July 15 hit-and-run death of a St. Albans pedestrian whose body lay in a ditch for two days before being discovered.

Jenea Sherman, 32, of Dalewood Park is being held at South Central Regional Jail on a felony charge of failing to stop and render aid. She is charged in the death of Mary "Red" McCallister.

Kanawha County deputies say they discovered during their month-long investigation that Sherman had told a friend she believed she had hit a child, and she asked him to hide the vehicle involved - a rollback-style wrecker, according to the complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.

Deputies found McCallister's body July 17 in a ditch along old U.S. 35 (now W.Va. 817), between 2nd and 3rd avenues - near St. Albans and close to the Kanawha-Putnam border.

Two days before that, on the evening of July 15, Metro 911 dispatchers had received a call about a child being struck by a vehicle on the same road near Miracle Acres. The caller said the striking vehicle, described as a red Chevrolet Blazer, had left the scene, according to the complaint.

Authorities dispatched to the scene found nothing that night, deputies said.

Dispatchers told deputies the 911 call had come from a woman who identified herself as Vicky Harrison, according to the complaint.

When McCallister's body was found two days later, Detective B.K. Carper attempted to contact Harrison by calling the cell phone number she had given dispatchers, the complaint said.

The phone was answered by a woman who identified herself as Jenea Bradford. She told deputies Harrison had borrowed her cell phone July 15 to call for help and she did not want to get involved, the complaint said.

Nearly a month later, deputies who were investigating contacted Jenea Sherman using the same cell phone number used to contact Vicky Harrison and Jenae Bradford, deputies said.

Deputies then discovered that Sherman owned two rollback-style wrecker trucks, the complaint said.

Carper and Detective S.D. Ferrell spoke with Sherman Wednesday and were told that one of the trucks was stored at the Tornado home of Sherman's boyfriend's father, deputies said.

The other truck was being repaired by a friend Sherman identified only as "Eugene," the complaint said. He later was identified as Kenneth Eugene Spangler, the complaint said.

When deputies contacted Spangler, he told them he knew why they were calling, according to the complaint.

He said Sherman told him she had hit a child on old U.S. 35 with the rollback wrecker and asked him to hide it, the complaint said.

Spangler led deputies to a home on Wiseman Drive near St. Albans where they located the wrecker registered to Sherman, the complaint said.

Carper and Ferrell noted the damage to the wrecker was consistent with evidence found along the roadside near McCallister's body, it said.

The wrecker was confiscated as evidence, Stover said.

Deputies said they found during their investigation that Sherman admitted to at least two other people that she was driving the vehicle when it struck someone in the area of old U.S. 35, he said.

Sherman's boyfriend was identified as Robbie Thompson, who is currently being held at South Central Regional Jail on unrelated charges, the complaint said.

Deputies said phone calls between the two were recorded and Sherman made several references to striking something or someone in her wrecker in the area of old U.S. 35 in mid-July.

Sherman's bond was set at $150,000, property only.

Several days after McCallister's body was found, her sister, Jane Cartwright, told WSAZ-TV that the family had been struggling to understand why no one stopped on the road to help McCallister, who was one of three siblings.

Cartwright pleaded for anyone involved in the hit-and-run to come forward to police.

"For someone to just hit her and knock her in the ditch and just drive off, I just don't see how anybody could leave the scene of something like that," she told the television station.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Big Rig Rescue - Oct. 30 & 31 - Registration Open Now

Presented By: Midsouth Rescue Technologies, ABC Wrecker Service, Texas Engineering Extension Service (TEEX)
Where: 10289 North Freeway, Ft Worth, TX
When: Oct. 30-31, 2009

This training is unique…
The training is actually two separate offerings that will join together producing the most advanced rescue and recovery training available today. Little time is spent in the classroom; the majority will be HANDS-ON TRAINING!

Fire/Rescue Responders will learn the latest rescue techniques for dealing with the big rigs along with the advantages of heavy recovery equipment. Responders will learn what heavy recovery equipment is available to them, its capabilities, and techniques they can employ to provide rapid and efficient extrication.

Heavy Recovery Operators will learn the latest techniques of rigging and mechanical advantage combined with rotator operations.

Training side by side with Fire/Rescue Responders, Tow Operators will learn how and why certain rescue and scene management techniques are used and how they can assist in these operations to save lives.Working together will provide an efficient and safer rescue and recovery operation for everyone!

Register by October 15th!

Click here to learn more and to register at Midsouth Rescue Technologies!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tow Truck Driver Injured In NC Crash

Here's to a quick recovery! From the TimesNews.com:

A tow truck driver was taken to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill Saturday morning after a one-vehicle wreck on N.C. 87 South near Lindley Mill Road.

The extent of 23-year-old Anthony Royalty’s injuries weren’t immediately known.

Royalty, who is from Burlington but works for Ram’s Eastgate BP in Chapel Hill, was heading to work on N.C. 87 South at around 8 a.m. when the wreck occurred, said Trooper Jerry Deardorff of the N.C. Highway Patrol.

Royalty and witnesses said they heard a “pop” before Royalty’s tow truck went off the road to the right near Lindley Mill Road. Deardorff said the tire popped.

The truck struck a culvert and a mailbox before colliding with a utility pole.

“It just blew apart,” Deardorff said. “There was wood everywhere.”

The truck struck a second culvert and mailbox before stopping. The front axle of the truck was in the grass.

Royalty was taken to Alamance Regional Medical Center and then transferred to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

“I think he’s going to be OK,” Deardorff said.

Not A Good Way To Start Off A Monday...

From WHSV.com:

A Rockingham County woman and her young child got an interesting wake-up call Monday morning when a wrecker crashed into their mobile home. It happened on the 2200 block of Pinto Place just after 5 a.m.

Virginia State Police say a tow truck operator who lives in the Grassy Creek Mobile Home Park was called out to an accident earlier in the morning.

Police say the man started his truck, then attempted to run back inside his home. However, the wrecker started to drift backwards into the driveway and across the street, knocking a neighboring mobile home off its foundation.

VSP Trooper Robert Lawson says, "As he was getting out of the vehicle, he noticed it started to move, so he jumped back on the running board trying to get back into the vehicle. The vehicle picked up speed and he was unable to get back into the wrecker or the rollback before it went into the house".

EMS crews were able to get the woman and child out safely and no charges have been filed.

Friday, August 14, 2009

VA Tow Truck Drivers Pay Tribute/Andy's Last Ride

Here's the WAVY.com story:

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - "This is a day to honor Andy Starmer, our fallen commrade," said Clarence Patrick of Superior Towing.

It was the last ride for Andy Starmer. He lost his life next to his tow truck and on Thursday, his truck got a tow of it's own to Starmer's final resting place in Newport News.

"For a little guy, you couldn't ask for somebody with a bigger heart," said Elliott Winter, a friend of Andy's.

As more than 45 tow trucks, lights flashing and horns blaring, pulled onto Warwick Boulevard the rain started to fall.

"He got us. He rained on us. He got us," said Paul Redman, a friend of Andy's.

Starmer's friends say the drenching was one last joke sent from one of the funniest men they knew.

"He was very cynical and very dry. There was always an underlying and humorous undertone to everything he did. He was a unique individual," said Redman.

Andy lost his life in a tragic accident along I-64 in Newport News. Police say William Burns of Newport News was driving drunk when he lost control and hit Andy head on. The crash took a father away from his 11-year-old son.

"[Andy was] a dedicated father. I mean, oh my God. Most folks don't include their kids on things nowadays. Andy wouldn't do anything without him. William was his world," said Winter.

With flowers mounted to the back of Andy's truck, the towing community said goodbye.

"I guess the good Lord needed a good hand and he's got one now. Andy, I love you my brother. I sure am going to miss you."

In light of Andy's death, all of the tow truck drivers asked WAVY.com to pass along a warning: If you see a tow truck driver working along the side of the road, treat them like any other emergency worker and move over a lane and give them room to do their job safely.

They also beg you to never drink and drive.

VA Couple Escapes Injury When Tow Truck Ends Up In NC Lake

Here's the story from The Clay County Progress: Thursday, August 13, 2009 10:37 AM CDT

A Christiansburg, Va., man and his finance’ came out physically unscathed, but emotionally shaken after the wrecker they were driving plunged into Lake Chatuge. The car being towed overturned onto the shoreline.

The accident occurred Saturday around 11:30 a.m. at the entrance to the one-lane “High Bridge” on Highway 175, east of Hayesville.

Thomas Nosse, 35, was driving a 1986 Chevrolet wrecker north on 175 toward U.S. 64 when he came upon the bridge, saw a string of traffic on it and then noticed the “one-lane” bridge sign, but it was too late

“I came around that curve and the bridge was lined with cars coming at me,” Nosse said. “I was not familiar with the road and did not realize it was a one-lane bridge. I hit the brakes and the wheels locked up. It was either hit someone or go off the road. I hit trees and then went into the lake.”

Nosse can’t swim. He said the cab of the truck began to fill with water. “It got scarier when the cab starting filling up and it was coming in pretty fast. We didn’t know how deep the water was either”

The windows were down and Nosse helped get his finance', Tana Newman, 47, out of the cab. They both stood on top of it until help arrived.

“I had jut bought that truck about 30 minutes earlier from a guy in Hiawassee, Ga.,” said Nosse, who lives about 300 miles away. “I was towing my 1998 Grand Prix I drove down here. I hate it overturned, it is a rare car.”

“The people in your area are the nicest I’ve ever met,” Nosse said of the rescue workers and Ed Ashe, who loaned him a car to drive home.

North Carolina Highway Trooper Steve Byers said Nosse was estimated to be traveling around 50 miles per hour. He was cited for exceeding a safe speed.

Crash Witness To Raise Funds For Slain VA Tow Truck Driver

Here's Tamara Dietrich's column from The Daily Press:
Makanamai Robbins attended a quilters show Sunday where her mother, a gifted Hawaiian quilter, had been a special guest.

Heading home in Newport News that night, they hit a logjam on westbound Interstate 64. It took an hour or more of creeping traffic to discover the grisly source of the backup.

"Broken glass, metal, pieces of cars all over the ground," recalled Makanamai, a Denbigh High graduate who turned 18 just the day before. "Two ambulances, a firetruck and a whole bunch of State Police.

"We went past, I saw the body on the ground and at that time I didn't know who it was and I didn't know what was going on and it hit me and it was severely upsetting."

Who it was was Andy Craig Starmer of Newport News — tow truck driver, father of an 11-year-old boy, and a Denbigh High graduate killed three days before his 37th birthday. The apparent victim of a drunk driver.

Makanamai credits her nine years as a Girl Scout for deciding what to do next: Raise funds to help with Starmer's funeral expenses.

"I read online he didn't have any life insurance and the family wasn't wealthy or anything," she explains. "And since we're in a recession, I figured I might as well help."

It's understandable and very human, this compulsion to help. To try to inject some sense — even a sense of purpose — into a random tragedy.

A man is called out one night to remove a disabled van along a highway. He shoos the van driver farther off the road out of harm's way because, as his boss put it in one news report, "you never know what happens out here," and just as he's fastening the final chain a pickup truck out of nowhere smashes into his wrecker, which dominoes into him, slinging his body 100 feet and his soul into infinity.

The commonwealth's attorney has charged William Charles Burns, 51, of Newport News with DUI manslaughter in Starmer's death, a charge levied when someone is suspected of driving drunk and unintentionally causing the death of another person. Burns was injured but is recovering.

Wrecker work is dangerous business. According to a spokeswoman at the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum in Chattanooga, Tenn., drivers die on the job in the same proportion as firefighters and police officers.

If it's not car owners upset over repossessions, it's motorists too careless to notice flashing lights, too arrogant to give a lane or too drunk behind the wheel.

Now the museum's Wall of the Fallen has one more name to add to the list.

Starmer's funeral was Thursday. At his viewing Wednesday was the widow of a tow truck driver slain just over four years ago — killed not in the line of service like Starmer, but simply because he was a tow truck driver.

John Drees was stabbed to death in June 2005 along with his best friend, Bobby Gowing, in the Denbigh garage where Drees was doing some mechanic work, by a guy who had a beef with some other driver and wanted revenge.

Like I say — senseless.

That guy and his two accomplices pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty and are serving two life sentences for murder.

Perhaps not surprising in the small world of towing, Drees and Starmer were friends, says Sue Drees, John's mother. At one time, they even worked for the same company.

She and John's widow, Karen, were called Sunday night by another tow truck driver who wanted to break the news.

"It's like murder, when somebody kills you like that," Sue told me Tuesday.

I reached her at a resort town where Karen and her new husband are on their honeymoon.

"My son's gone and I mourn him, but I don't expect her. ..." Sue says of her daughter-in-law, voice trailing off. "She's young."

Karen broke her honeymoon trip long enough to return to pay respects to Starmer.

"Tow truck drivers are dedicated," says Sue.

She was glad to hear of plans to raise donations for Starmer's family, knowing how a fund helped John's three children — the youngest but 7 weeks old when he was killed.

Thursday afternoon, Makanamai said she's still working to set up an account at a local bank. If you're interested in contributing, give her a call at 757-969-0908.

Contact Dietrich at 247-7892 or tdietrich@dailypress.com.

Gruesome Discovery In Impounded Car

Here's the story from the Rockford Register Star:
SOUTH BELOIT — Janet Sherer expressed disgust Thursday in learning that the bones of two babies were concealed in a vehicle her company towed a year ago and kept impounded. The fact that the babies may belong to Katie Stockton, who was arrested and charged with murder last week in connection with the death of another child, made her “sick.”

“This is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard of in my life,” said Sherer, co-owner of Ace Towing in Beloit, Wis. “It’s enough to make you want to throw up.”

Baby Crystal is the girl who was born alive but left to die in frigid cold weather in December 2004. The baby was found dead in a discarded plastic bag left along the side of a rural road.

The sad story of Baby Crystal and her mother turned bizarre Wednesday when the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department and state’s attorney’s office learned that a vehicle that belonged to Stockton was being kept in an Ace Towing vehicle storage lot at 127 Blackhawk Blvd. in South Beloit.

Winnebago County Sheriff’s deputies found the 1993 Saturn, inspected the trunk and made the gruesome discovery. The Sheriff’s Department took possession of the vehicle and is holding it an undisclosed location as evidence.

Sherer said the car was stored in an outdoor lot near a rear fence. She even recalled her husband making a comment to her about the condition of the car.

“He said, ‘Jan, that car smells funny.’“

Sherer said the law does not allow tow companies to enter towed vehicles.

“We’re not allowed to go through the car, the trunk, the glove compartment. It would be like someone going through your house without you knowing it. We can only hook it, tow it and lock it up.”

Sherer also said she remembers Stockton calling her husband several weeks later in an attempt to retrieve her car.

“She called once and wanted to make a deal with my husband. He went down to the impound and waited and waited, but she never showed up.”

Ace Towing charges a $30-a-day storage fee, which is on top of the $100 initial towing charge.

South Beloit police came into possession of the vehicle on Aug. 15, 2008. Winnebago County Court records showed officer Dan Kutz pulled Stockton over at 3:31 p.m. in the 400 block of Gardner Street and arrested her on charges of driving on a suspended license and registration.

Police Chief Tom Fearn said Stockton was taken to the Winnebago County Jail, and her car was impounded.

Fearn said only clothing and miscellaneous items were taken from the vehicle at the time. He said the trunk and glove compartment were not checked, which is normal for the charges she faced.

“You have no reason to do that,” Fearn said. “At that time she wasn’t even a suspect (in Baby Crystal’s death). She wasn’t even flying on the radar.”

Fearn went on to say his department follows the state statute guidelines for impounding vehicles.

“We do a cursory examination,” he said. “We ask the owner if anything valuable needs to be removed, but in most cases, I don’t mean for this to sound wrong, but it’s just stuff.”

Mayor Randy Kirichkow said he is embarrassed by the Police Department’s failure to properly search the car.

“It’s extremely disappointing to say the least and embarrassing,” he said. “I haven’t talked to the officer involved. I haven’t seen the police report. But, hopefully, there’s a valuable lesson learned here.

“It’s one thing if you do a traffic stop and do a citation and don’t search it, but from what I understand there’s supposed to be pictures taken and everything inside the vehicle is supposed to inventoried. If the tow company were to tamper with the vehicle, we would have that information.”

Everyday Tow Hero In CT

A round of applause goes to Mike MacDonough, a 31-year old tow truck driver and mechanic for R.J. Shore Automotive in Brandford, CT. He jumped into action after an accident on July 30 and saved the life of 55-year old Robert Mattson. Here's the story posted by Shore Publishing:

If you’ve ever been stranded on the side of the road with a smoking engine or flat tire, there’s no bigger hero than the guy driving a tow truck to your rescue. Tow truck operator and mechanic Michael MacDonough has been on plenty of jobs like that. But it was the life-saving rescue Mike undertook July 30 that’s redefined him, in the eyes of many, as a true hero.

At about 1 p.m. that day, Mike had just towed a truck with a flat tire back to his employer’s Branford garage, R.J. Shore Automotive on Shore Drive.

“I was under the truck getting the spare down and the next thing you know, there was this big crash,” recalls Mike, 31, a life-long East Haven resident.

In a horrifying chain of events, a car driven by Robert Mattson, 55, of Branford, was heading for the nearby East Haven town line when it hit an oncoming Branford Public Works truck, careened off the right side of the road, and slammed into an unoccupied tow truck and car in the Shore Automotive lot.

“Everybody started running over. Me and my boss went to the driver’s door and when I opened it up, I noticed the seatbelt was dug into his neck,” says Mike.

With six years’ experience
responding to accidents with EMTs on-scene and as a follower of TV rescue shows, Mike, who’s considered becoming a volunteer firefighter, didn’t hesitate to act.

“There was blood all over the place but he was still talking. He was saying, ‘What did I do?’ and I was saying, ‘Don’t worry about that stuff,’” says Mike, who could see the bleeding gash in Mattson’s neck needed pressure applied.

“I took the seatbelt out of his neck and got someone to bring me a fender cover—it’s like T-shirt material. I put that on his neck and held the back of his head and his neck,” says Mike. “I was watching him the whole time because you see on TV they can go into shock, so I was waiting to see what’s next.”

Meanwhile, Branford’s own emergency responders were rushing to the scene. Mike kept applying pressure and talking to Mattson until they arrived. He was later told Mattson could easily have bled to death if Mike hadn’t taken action.

“They got there just in time…he started turning gray,” says Mike.

Mattson was rushed to Yale-New Haven Hospital and survived the accident. Mike’s feat was made a bit more significant when he later learned July 30 was also Mattson’s birthday. A man who said he was Mattson’s brother stopped by Shore Automotive later that day to tell Mike’s boss, Jim Bruneau, that Mattson had made it, albeit with major injuries.

“His brother came that night and said all the ribs on his right side were broken,” says Mike.

What’s yet to be conveyed (as of press time) by Mattson or his family members is a thank you to Mike. But the soft-spoken mechanic says he’s only glad to know Mattson survived.

“They have to deal with him and make sure he’s alright. He’s alive…I see a lot of accidents where it’s just amazing that people survive. I see a lot of blood; [it] kind of puts a knot in your stomach for the rest of the day.”

Mike was thanked by officials of Branford’s police and fire departments.

“The day of the accident, the fire chief and the chief of police told me if I didn’t do that, he wouldn’t have made it,” says Mike.

In a day and age when people are afraid to act because those actions could invite a lawsuit, Mike says he’s not surprised many of the onlookers at the accident scene didn’t rush in to help.

“I just went and did what I could. I talked to an old boss of mine later and he said people get sued for helping all the time,” Mike says, adding, just for the record, “It was a new, clean fender cover!

“Somebody asked me today if I would do it again and I said, ‘Yeah, if it’s going to save a life.’”

After the crisis was over that day, Mike went right back to work, towing away the garage’s damaged truck (it, too, was brand new). The other vehicle hit at the garage was a light blue, newly restored 1972 Mercury Cougar convertible. Just as he’d told Mattson at the accident, Mike says those damaged items don’t mean much when you look at the big picture.

“The cars and stuff like that; all that can be fixed and replaced.”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Trucker Sentenced In 2008 Killing of CA Tow Truck Driver

Here's the KCRA-3.com story:
A man whose big rig went onto the shoulder of Interstate 80 near Newcastle and killed a man has been sentenced to 60 days in the Placer County jail.Lakhwinder Sidhu of Ontario, Canada, received the sentence Aug. 6 from Placer County Superior Court Judge John Cosgrove, who also placed the defendant on three years of informal probation.Sidhu, 35, who pleaded no contest on May 28 to a misdemeanor charge of manslaughter without gross negligence, was ordered to report to the jail on Aug. 27.Prosecutor Matt Block of the Placer County District Attorney's Office said Sidhu was driving east on I-80 near the Newcastle exit on April 11, 2008, when he looked at his side mirror to make a pass on the left.However, as Sidhu was busy looking to the left, his truck approached a curve in the road and continued onto the shoulder, where a tow truck was parked and where its driver, Miguel Ramos, 42, of Bakersfield, was standing.Ramos had pulled off the road because of trouble with his tow truck, Block said. The big rig smashed into the truck, killing Ramos, Block said.As part of his sentence, Sidhu was ordered to pay $7,500 to the California State Victims Compensation Program and another $740 in fines and fees.

Alert From STO - Effective Dates for New Laws

Here's the info from the Southwest Tow Operators.

Below are two sections from HB2571 that passed this past Legislative Session in 2009. These are the effective dates and requirements for each.
HB 2571
Payment Sign
Section 2303.159(a)
Effective September 1st, 2009:

VSF's are required to CONSPICOUSLY post a sign that states:

"This vehicle storage facility must accept payment by an electronic check, credit card, or debit card for any fee or charge associated with delivery or storage of a vehicle."
There are no letter size requirements, but conspicuously means that is must be noticeable to anyone, paying out a vehicle from the VSF.

HB 2571
Section 2308.453
Effective September 1st, 2009:

Tow hearing jurisdiction changes from where the vehicle is STORED to where it is TOWED FROM.

Change your JP notification on all receipts and notifications to the correct precinct.

Good Story on CA Repo Man

Here's the story from the Lodi News-Sentinel. Nice job on it by reporter Layla Bohm!

When the gray Chevrolet 3500 pulls out of a Beckman Road driveway, the driver is on a mission: He plans to return with another vehicle in tow.

In all likelihood, he'll arrive at an address, effortlessly lower the towing equipment on the back of his truck and drive off within a minute or two.

The driver is a vehicle repossessor working for Lodi-based Accurate Adjustments. He often works at night, using the darkness to his advantage so he can avoid the vehicle's owner.

There are plenty of vehicles to be repossessed, with the economy likely contributing to skyrocketing statistics: Five years ago, 453 vehicles were taken back from their owners in the fiscal 2003-04 year, according to Lodi police. In the fiscal year ending in June, 814 owners lost their vehicles.

Unlike in television shows, those vehicle owners are rarely the drug-crazed deadbeats who trigger brawls lit by flashing police lights.

What's much more likely is that the car's owners will simply watch the repossession process, resigned to the fact that auto payments got to be too much. Sometimes they cry, asking for one more chance to come up with the money, or to at least get their personal belongings out of the car.

That's the real job of a repossessor, according to Shane Freitas, who owns Accurate Adjustments. The sole goal is to retrieve a vehicle safely.

"I try to train my guys not to judge people. They have to have eyes in the back of their head, but they shouldn't judge," he said. "I like to think people thought they could afford the car."

Freitas, who owned his business for 13 years and previously spent a number of years in the industry, sees his profession as a service. Repossession is a way to recover property while avoiding more costly methods such as the court system.

"It saves the consumer money and it keeps the interest rates lower," Freitas said. "If they don't get their collateral back, they'll raise rates for (consumers)."

Freitas, 39, has been around the repo business for much of his life.

Born in Hawaii, Freitas lived there until he was 9, after his mother met a man in the military who settled in Arkansas. Then they moved to California to be closer to family. Freitas' dad became an auto mechanic, and his shop was next door to a repo business.

Freitas got to know the owner, named Nick, who gave him some part-time jobs accompanied by a warning: "He told me, whatever you do, make sure you don't get involved in this business."

That advice didn't stick.

Courtesy pays off

Now he owns a large building on the eastern edge of Lodi, complete with a $40,000 alarm system that's constantly monitored and includes motion-detecting cameras.

Freitas has owned his business for 13 years, and in spring 2008 he moved the company from Stockton to Lodi. He said the reason was because Lodi police respond quickly to building alarm calls.

The tan structure is surrounded by a brick wall and black iron fence, but inside, his nine full-time employees have the use of a modern kitchen. Freitas' office desk is partially taken up by three computer monitors, along with a large iced coffee drink.

A map of Hawaii hangs on one wall, and nearby are photos of his wife and two daughters.

Vehicle repossessions in Lodi

By fiscal years ending in June:
2003-04: 453
2004-05: 433
2005-06: 427
2006-07: 542
2007-08: 621
2008-09: 814
The vehicles ranged from motor homes to boats to dirt bikes, and included many sport-utility vehicles, said Lodi Police Lt. Chris Piombo.
Source: Lodi Police Department

About state repossession licenses

California currently has 278 repossessor agencies, which are licensed through the Department of Consumer Affairs.

A total of 775 licensed employees are working for repo companies, and another 291 people are "qualified managers," which means they are responsible for making sure licenses are current and valid, said spokesman Russ Heimerich.

The license process includes a background check and takes about two weeks, he said. Licenses must be renewed every two years, or if the employee moves to a different repo business.

Accurate Adjustments is the only repo company in Lodi, and is one of only three in San Joaquin County. Two new, small ones are based in Thornton and Mountain House, with two licensed repossessors each. Accurate Adjustments has eight licensed repossessors, according to state records.

To check the license of a repossession business or employee, or others in the security industry, go to www.bsis.ca.gov/online_services/verify_license.shtml.

News-Sentinel staff

A spacious, enclosed garage holds cars that have recently been towed, with sport-utility vehicles on one side and sedans on the other.

They're parked more closely than the typical parallel parking job, but even that doesn't present a problem for the tow trucks, which Freitas demonstrated.

He remote-started a tow truck from a button on the key ring, and a computer turned on inside the truck. Cameras mounted on the truck gave Freitas a complete view as he lowered a boom, opened a claw-like device and slid it under a parked car — all as he sat inside the truck.

Then the claws lifted the front end of the car and swiveled it, pulling it effortlessly out from between two cars and then rolling it on its rear tires.

"People are always curious about how we get their cars without damaging them," he said with a slight smile.

That's another aspect of the job — the people whose cars have been taken.

Often they run outside to their vehicle before the repo truck has left. And, TV-related assumptions aside, Freitas said his employees frequently just knock on a door before leaving with the car.

That's the method that three-year employee Mike Deluna prefers. He hooks the car up to his tow truck, which means it has legally been repossessed, and then he often knocks on the door. That gives people a chance to get their personal belongings out of the car, and he can ask for the keys to make life easier for everyone.

After all, it saves company time from having to take a full inventory of a vehicle and store the items, which fill another room at the business.

As a family man with children, Deluna said he sometimes runs into people whose vehicles he repossessed, and the professional attitude makes such encounters much easier.

Very rarely are people actually surprised when the repo truck comes, Freitas said, since finance companies first try to collect payment directly from the debtors.

When it comes down to the actual repo, Freitas emphasizes professionalism to his employees.

"The repossessor's demeanor sets the tone for the whole operation," he said.

From motorcycles to a Rolls

Freitas avoids most accusations and arguments because of the cameras on his trucks. They record audio and video.

One time, Freitas said, he had hooked up a car to a tow truck when a young woman came running out of the nearby mobile home, clad only in a bra and panties. A man followed her, making threats to shoot Freitas.

Sheriff's deputies were called, and in the meantime the woman had gotten into the car. When deputies came, she said she had been there before Freitas arrived, and he was facing arrest for kidnapping.

Freitas told the deputies it was all recorded, and he pressed the "play" button on the computer in his truck. He was no longer threatened with arrest.

In all his years of work, Freitas has seen plenty of interesting situations. There was the time he towed a motor home and his brother-in-law was helping inventory the contents.

"I'm saying, 'Wow, the only thing missing is the kitchen sink,' and then he tosses a sink out," Freitas said with a grin.

One time a man came to the business hoping to get a camera that had been in his vehicle. He was crying because the pictures meant so much to him, and Freitas eventually found the camera that had become wedged under a seat.

"It's all how you treat people," he said. "Sometimes people just fall on hard times."

He's towed all kinds of vehicles, ranging from motor homes to motorcycles to plenty of cars.

The most expensive car he's towed? A $350,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom, for which the driver still owed $275,000.

"I didn't sleep when that thing was here," Freitas said as he stood in the enclosed garage, adding that he was quite relieved when the finance company's truck came to pick up the car.

Facing a gun

In all his years in the repo business, Freitas said he was only hit once, when he let down his guard and a bunch of men surrounded him, with one punching him.

But that's not the only risk.

"We've had guns pointed at us, we've had knives pulled on us. I had bullet holes in the side of a truck, and didn't even know we were being shot at," Freitas said.

The gun-pointing incident isn't something Freitas has forgotten. He still remembers staring at the barrel of the gun, and seeing that the man's finger was in the trigger.

And the man was crying.

Freitas managed to calm the man down and get him to lower the gun and talk. It turned out that the gunman was so upset because he really had made his car payments. Unknown to him, the auto dealer was pocketing the money.

Freitas had been hearing the same story from other repossession victims — though they didn't brandish guns — and knew something was wrong. Freitas said he got state investigators involved, and ultimately 38 cease-and-desist orders were served on car lot owners along Wilson Way in Stockton.

Freitas still tells the story because it's an exception in his line of work, and because it shows that every situation is different.

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Closed DC Towing Company Sues District For $10 Million

Here's the Washington Examiner story:

By: Michael Neibauer
Examiner Staff Writer
August 6, 2009

A D.C. towing operator whose business was shut down in 2007 for flouting city towing laws is suing the government for $10 million, saying the District had no authority to revoke his license.

James W. Gee, owner of Youngin's Towing and Auto Body, may have been one of the more despised businessmen in the District until the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs closed his Montana Avenue Northeast business down.

He was accused of, and fined for, charging exorbitant rates, towing with little justification and without notifying the city, requiring cash-only payments, refusing to turn over a vehicle, failing to provide a printed copy of the "Owner's Bill of Rights," and declining to pay for damages caused by his drivers. Some owners complained that Gee junked their cars before they could retrieve them from his lot.

But none of that matters, Gee says in a lawsuit filed last week in federal court. His suit argues that federal law bars any state from regulating the tow truck industry, with two exceptions -- for safety and the price of a tow not requested by the vehicle's owner. The District, Gee said, violated a "federal pre-emption" and lacked the jurisdiction to close him down.

"Sounds kind of crazy, right?" said Donald Temple, Gee's lawyer. "But that's what the federal law says."

Temple said he "is not defending anybody's bad practices." Rather, he said, the lawsuit tackles "more of a legal if not constitutional question." By squashing his business license, the city was guilty of "unconstitutional seizure," and for that Gee is asking $10 million.

"I was treated rotten," Gee said. "I was a hard-core businessman. I did nothing wrong."

DCRA disagreed. In October 2007, when she announced that Youngin's had been shut down and fined $1,500, agency Director Linda Argo described the business as one that "preyed on vulnerable vehicle owners." The D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed DCRA's action this year.

"One of the things we do in this administration is we take action when action is required and we're not afraid to do it," Attorney General Peter Nickles said Tuesday.

As for Gee's federal pre-emption argument, Nickles said it was "ridiculous" given that "towing is inherently a local function."

Youngin's grossed more than $1 million in its last year of operation, according to the lawsuit.


Miller Now Tweets

Here's the press release:
Learn about new products coming out from the industry leader, keep track of the excitement of the Miller Race Recovery Team at NASCAR Races around the country or find out what tow show or training events you can meet and talk with the folks from Miller Industries. Just go to twitter.com and sign up to follow the tweets from Millerind, http://twitter.com/millerind

Miller Industries will help keep you informed with all their latest news and events.

South African Tow Truck Driver Killed Last Friday

Our condolences to the family and acquaintances of 25-year old Lewies Vermaak, who died in an accident last Friday. He leaves behind a wife and 4-year old son. Here's the story from news24.com:

Arisja Jacobs

Secunda – A young tow-truck driver died in an accident on Thursday, as conflict between local tow-truck operators continued.

Lewies Vermaak, 25, had only been married to his wife, Charné, 22, for three months.

Her mother, Wilna Marais, died three weeks ago in a car accident on the same road where Vermaak died.

Vermaak also left a four-year-old son, Brandon.

Vermaak had been working at Sectri-Auto for the past month. The company's Dawie Greef and Nico Higgs, owner of Modern Auto Repair, claimed the accident scene to which Vermaak had been going, was actually a police trap to catch tow-truck operators.

But Secunda police station spokesperson, Captain Busaphi Sibanyoni, denied this.

Collision with tow-truck

Vermaak got a R500 fine for speeding on his way to the accident scene, in the direction of Evander. On his return, his tow truck, a Nissan Navara, collided with a vehicle driven by Tommy Bronkhorst from Car Doctor.

The Navara rolled over to the right of the road and over the central ridge and double lane of oncoming traffic, finally stopping in long grass at the side of the road.

Vermaak died on the scene. Bronkhorst was unhurt and his vehicle appeared not to be badly damaged.

Greef's wife, Tanya, said Vermaak was very popular in the two-truck community. "He went directly to heaven. Lewies recently salved our vehicles and company so that God would bless us and protect us."

The accident scene was attended by many police and traffic officials, tow-truck drivers and owners and their lawyers.

Accusations of road rage, competition between tow-truck operators and death threats were voiced out loud.

Physical altercations between tow-truck drivers of the roughly eight companies in the area happen regularly at accident scenes. Assault charges are regularly made and then withdrawn.

Owners blamed for conflict

"When will it stop? Will we first have to take one of your bodies from the road before you stop fighting like this?", Captain Floors Steyn of the Secunda detective branch asked a few tow-truck operators about two months ago, after one of them had been attacked with a golf club.

Sibanyoni said on Thursday, "I can't yet confirm whether the accident was related to the continued infighting between the different tow-truck operators. We will investigate all angles."

Stephen Holloway, owner of Car Doctor, told Beeld that Bronkhorst had gotten along well with Vermaak and that there was no bad blood between them.

"Tommy currently tows most of the vehicles in town."

A tow-truck driver, who didn't want to give his name for fear of losing his job, said on Thursday that owners of tow-truck companies were behind the fighting amongst operators. "We are now paid a small basic salary and get commission for every car we tow. Each of the operators have police scanners and our bosses know this."

"We have to race to be first on the scene, otherwise we don't get paid. If our bosses sort it out, then things can change."

- Beeld

Peek In On Miller Industries

From a Miller Industries release:
We just went live with another webcam at our delivery building. This one covers the outside area where Frank & Benji do final inspections.

Go to www.millerind.com and look under the extras tab for "Outside Live Webcam"

towPartners Launches New Online "Advisor Speaks" Column

Here's the press release:
towPartners announced that its website at www.towpartners.com now contains a new column feature called “Advisor Speaks” which will provide an informative daily reading piece for visitors and allows members to submit their own pieces. The “Advisor Speaks” has been initially loaded with over fifty pieces that are
TowPartners Launches a New Online Advisor Speaks Column
each less than one page in length.

There will be more pieces added by the towPartners organization in the coming months plus there is a feature that allows members to submit items for the Advisor Speaks. This should allow the system to operate with minimal duplication. The stories are published at random each day and any duplication cannot occur until all of the published pieces have been displayed. This will at least prevent any duplication for the next fifty days and longer as new stories are added. Stories submitted to the system will also be considered for publication in the towPartners Advisor magazine, a quarterly publication to the towing industry that is mailed to the more than 25,000 members of towPartners and repoPartners.

The new Advisor Speaks section of the website will include short items about everything from choosing trucks to business practices with advice and information about all aspects of operating a small business, particularly one in the towing industry. The articles range from information about wreckers to topics of interest to tow truck operators and those who work in the towing industry. Contact : Jeffrey Godwin, towPartners, Keller, TX, 877-401-2345, jgodwin@towpartners.com

Everyday Tow Hero in OH Recently Honored

Kudos to tow truck driver Warren Canon, Jr! Here's part of the story from The Chronicle-Telegram. Read the full story here.

ELYRIA — Fourteen heroes from all over the county will be recognized today at a breakfast hosted by the American Red Cross of Lorain County.

Honorees include people from all walks of life including a mail carrier, two policemen, a school counselor, a high school student, a tow truck driver, and a couple young children. They are:

• Warren Canon Jr., a tow truck driver, and Marcus and Maria Rouston called 911 on a freezing night in January when they spotted smoke coming from a Lorain home with a handicapped ramp outside. They all went inside the house and pulled the 88-year-old man inside to safety as the fire destroyed the home. The man inside had been sleeping and was unaware of the fire.

Suspected Drunk Driver Could Face Manslaughter Charges for VA Tow Truck Driver's Death

Here's the story from the Daily Press:
NEWPORT NEWS — By all accounts, Andy Starmer did everything right on Sunday night.

He was wearing reflective clothing. He had the lights on his tow truck flashing. And he was pulled off onto the right shoulder of Interstate 64 near Victory Boulevard in Newport News.

But the Denbigh High School graduate, who would have turned 37 on Wednesday, died after being struck by the vehicle of a motorist who is now charged with driving under the influence.

William Charles Burns, 51, of Newport News, was charged with DUI and reckless driving, and the Newport News commonwealth's attorney will determine whether to charge him also with manslaughter, said Virginia State Police Sgt. Michelle Cotten.

"Our job exposes us to the same dangers as any other emergency responders," said Clarence Patrick, the owner of Superior Towing in Newport News, where Starmer had worked for seven years. "We take the same precautions as police, paramedics and fire and rescue workers when they are responding to a situation on the highway."

Patrick said Starmer's "rollback" tow truck was "as far onto the right shoulder as it could go, less than a foot from the guardrail."

Starmer was removing a disabled vehicle from westbound I-64 when he was hit around 8:30 p.m. Sunday.

Patrick said Starmer had placed the vehicle on his wrecker and was securing it with chains when a four-door pickup truck came onto the shoulder, hit the tow truck and then struck Starmer.

Starmer was propelled about 100 feet past the front of the tow truck, and the other truck came to rest another 100 feet up the road, Patrick said.

Starmer was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead. Burns also sustained injuries in the accident but is expected to recover.

Patrick, who has been in the towing business for more than a decade, said it is the first time one of his drivers has been hit.

He said Starmer, who had a young son, was one of five drivers working for Superior.

"We're a small company," he said. "Andy was like a part of the family."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

VA Tow Truck Driver Killed On Interstate Saved Customer's Life

An everyday tow hero to the very last. Kudos to WTKR-TV for revealing this side of a very sad story:
Even until the end, friends say, Andy Starmer always put others ahead of himself.

As a tow truck driver Starmer was used to rescuing stranded drivers.

But last night, his friends say, Starmer did more than that - he actually saved his customer's life.

Clarence Patrick, who was Starmer's boss at Superior Towing adds, "His last words were to tell the motorist that he needed to go to the other side of truck because it was dangerous out there and he would appreciate him standing to the side of the truck."

Just as the customer moved away from traffic Police say William Burns lost control of his truck and hit Starmer. Starmer died at the scene. The Newport News resident would have turned 37 this week.

Clarence Patrick says being a tow truck driver has its risks, but he says it's something Stramer loved to do.

Starmer was known for being extremely careful when working on the interstate. They say he always followed the rules, like using the appropriate gear. Patrick says last night was not any different.

Patrick adds, "There is no way this should have happened. He did everything he possibly could, to make sure that nothing happened."

And now as his family and those he worked with deal with their grief, Patrick says everyone should take this as a lesson learned: Every time you see a tow truck driver along the side of the road give him plenty of room.

Patrick adds, "When that guy comes by to tow your car for a flat tire or something. He's basically in the line of traffic putting his life on the line. He really is."

Police say Burns is still hospitalized with critical injuries. He has been charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving. The commonwealth's attorney's office will examine the police report and determine whether those charges will be increased to manslaughter.

IL Towing Scandal Snares Ex-Officer

Here's the story from St. Louis Today:
ST. LOUIS — The federal investigation into misconduct involving the St. Louis Police Department and a local towing and parking company expanded Monday with the guilty plea of a former police detective.

Kevin Shade, 35, waived indictment by a grand jury Monday morning and pleaded guilty to a single felony charge of mail fraud. The court proceeding was the first time Shade had been identified as part of criminal activity involved with the towing scandal.

As part of his plea, Shade admitted that over an almost four-year period, he was involved in a scheme to fraudulently obtain clear titles for impounded vehicles.

Between October 2004 and August 2008, Shade took cash bribes to sign off on documents that said vehicles he had inspected had no flaws, or only minor flaws. They actually had obvious flaws, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen said in court.

Shade's signature on the forms meant that S&H Parking Systems would receive a normal title to those vehicles from the state instead of a salvage title, boosting the value of the vehicle.

Shade was one of the officers responsible for vehicle inspections in the department, which is allowed to do the inspections under state law. The Missouri Highway Patrol performs most of the inspections.
Shade also admitted that St. Louis Metropolitan Towing manager Gregory P. Shepard "and others" were involved in the scheme. Metropolitan Towing and S&H are associated companies.

Shade has agreed to cooperate in the investigation and potentially testify, Jensen said in court.

Shepard was indicted on multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and bribery on June 25.

That indictment accuses Shepard and the unidentified "others" of a wide-ranging scheme that included attempts to boost fees for storing towed cars by lying to owners to keep them there longer. The scheme also involved inflating the mileage fees Metropolitan charged for towing cars owned by rental companies, the indictment says.

Shepard, a former police detective, oversaw vehicle impounds for years while on the force. He retired in 1999, then joined Metropolitan.

Shepard has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyer, Dave Harlan, has said that he is innocent. Harlan declined to comment on Shade's guilty plea Monday, saying did not have any information on the plea.

Prosecutors declined to comment after the brief court hearing. They, investigators and defense attorneys declined to identify the "others" allegedly involved.

Shade's plea comes well over a year after federal investigators began looking into the relationship between Metropolitan Towing and the Police Department. It comes just over a year since the department, after receiving inquiries from the Post-Dispatch, admitted that Metropolitan had been allowing officers and the daughter of then-Chief Joe Mokwa to use towed cars for free.

In subsequent months, the newspaper revealed that Metropolitan shortchanged the city by at least $700,000 on towing revenue that they were supposed to share, and that police and Metropolitan employees improperly towed and kept the vehicles

Metropolitan's owners, brothers William and Kenneth Bialczak, have not been mentioned in either criminal indictment. Their lawyer, Sanford Boxerman, said, "The information available to me suggests that neither Bill or Ken has done anything illegal."

"I'm sure people are forming conclusions. I'm not sure the conclusions that people are forming are the correct ones," he said.

Mokwa's lawyer, Neil Bruntrager, said Mokwa was not involved in wrongdoing and has not been interviewed by investigators.

Shade resigned from the department the same day Shepard was indicted. The department did not immediately respond to questions about the terms of his departure or how those terms would be affected by his guilty plea.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, he could face 12 to 18 months in federal prison. He is likely to get a considerable break, even possibly probation, in exchange for his cooperation, lawyers said.

"It was a difficult decision for … Officer Shade, but he's certainly considered all his options but believed this to be his best option given the circumstances," said Scott Rosenblum, one of Shade's lawyers.

Rosenblum said Shade was willing to accept responsibility for "something he did" and was looking forward to a "bright future and career in something other than law enforcement."

Class Challenges Fresno's $40 Towing Fee

Here's the story from Courthouse News Service:
Class Challenges City's $40 Towing Fee
FRESNO (CN) - The City of Fresno is unconstitutionally collecting nearly $1 million a year by charging tow-truck drivers a $40 "referral fee" for every vehicle the city has them tow, a class action claims in Fresno County Court.
Named plaintiff William Solorzano, whose vehicle was towed, says the $40 fee is an illegal tax. Fresno called it "a new innovative revenue source" in its 2005-06 budget report; it approved the fee in 2004. He claims the city is collecting more than 20,000 such fees each year.
He claims the city admits it is spending $500,000 of that money each year on police programs, though state law requires that it charge only "the amount necessary to reimburse the public entity for its actual and reasonable costs incurred in connection with the tow program."
And he claims that the $40 "fee" is actually a tax, under Proposition 218. Solorzano wants the $40 fee enjoined.
The putative class is represented by Nathan Miller with Miller & Ayala.

SC Man Accused Of Hitting Tow Truck Remains Jailed

Here's the Myrtle Beach Sun News story:

A Murrells Inlet man remains jailed on more than $20,000 bond after a tow truck driver reported the man tried to run him over with his vehicle.

William Kelly Thomas, 28, is being held at J. Reuben Long Detention Center on charges of assault and battery with intent to kill, driving under the influence and malicious damage to property with a value between $1,000 and $5,000, according to jail records. His bond is $20,000 for the assault charge, $997 for the DUI charge and $5,000 for the malicious damage charge.

A 37-year-old driver for Tow Time Towing in Myrtle Beach told police that at 9 p.m. Friday he went to tow an illegally parked vehicle near the Eleventh Hour Bar and Grill at 709 North Ocean Blvd., according to a police report.

The driver reported he and another employee got the vehicle ready to be raised to the truck when Thomas came up and began to protest the tow, according to the report. The driver said Thomas got in the vehicle, struck the tow truck and then drove the car onto the sidewalk to flee.

Damage to the truck was estimated at $2,000 and damage to a tow dolly was estimated at $750, according to the report. Police found Thomas a short time later and arrested him in Myrtle Beach.

TX Tow Company Employee Takes Wild Ride

Here's the San Marcos Record story:
A towing company employee wound up on what sounds like a wild ride early Saturday after he jumped into the back of a pickup truck fleeing the wrecker yard.

Police said the 33-year-old employee jumped into the bed of the Toyota Tundra as it crashed through a locked gate at Saucedo's Wrecker Service, then called 911 as the vehicle sped south on IH-35.

San Marcos Police Officer Todd Harrison pulled the truck over on the West Access Road south of Posey Road after following it at a high rate of speed, SMPD Sergeant Fred Wisener said.

The driver, 35-year-old Allen Kluth, was "taken out at gunpoint," and later charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, theft under $100,000 and criminal mischief under $1,500, Wisener said.

The Saucedo's employee told police he was "helping customers" when Kluth came to claim the Tundra, which had been towed. Wisener said Saucedo's wouldn't release the vehicle to Kluth because he "couldn't come up with sufficient proof of ownership," Wisener said.

Wisener said a female with Kluth asked to retrieve property from the Tundra and the employee was on the phone with his supervisor asking permission for that to happen when he "heard someone driving toward the gate."

The employee told police he ran to the scene and the truck hit him in the shoulder and leg, causing pain, though he'd tried to "get out of its way," Wisener said.

EMS checked the employee out but didn't take him to the hospital.

The arrest was made at 2:53 a.m. Wisener said "several officers" were involved.

Man Charged In Crash That Killed VA Tow Truck Driver

Here's the WVEC.com story:

NEWPORT NEWS - The man police say is responsible for a traffic death in Newport News has been charged with manslaughter.

State police say William Charles Burns was driving drunk Sunday night when his pickup struck and killed a tow truck driver on I-64.

William Charles Burns

The accident occurred east of Victory Boulevard in Newport News.

Police say the tow truck driver was helping a motorist in a disabled vehicle when Burns' truck hit him.

State police spokeswoman Michelle Cotton said Burns was arrested Monday night and was taken to the Newport News City Jail.

He is charged with aggravated involuntary manslaughter in addition to DUI and reckless driving.

Here's the Virginian-Pilot story.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tow Trucks Added To AL 'Move Over' Law

Kudos to the lawmakers in the Heart of Dixie! Here's the Dadeville Record story:

Law enforcement officials will begin issuing warnings for Alabama’s Move Over law this week.

The law requires drivers to move over a lane when emergency responders, law enforcement officials or wreckers are working on the side of the road. The law has been in effect for several years, but changes were made recently, including adding wreckers to the law and specifying a minimum speed limit for passing vehicles.

“The new Move Over law includes wreckers along with other emergency responders for which motorists need to move over,” said Dorris Teague, spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety.

Teague said the new specifications were added to better protect emergency responders and to clear up confusion about the existing law.

“I believe it just provides an added measure of safety for these emergency responders and clarifies the law for motorists,” Teague said.

Drivers are required to move over one lane, away from the emergency responders, when traveling on a four-lane road.

If that is not possible, drivers must slow the vehicle to at least 15 miles per hour below the posted speed limit.

On two-lane roads, drivers are required to slow to at least 15 miles per hour below the posted speed limit or slow to 10 miles per hour when the speed limit is 20 miles per hour or less.

The law will have a six-month warning period beginning Aug. 1, during which time officers will issue warnings for violations and the Department of Public Safety will educate motorists about the law.

After the warning period, a first violation fine will be $25, a second violation will be $50 and a third violation will be $100.

Enforcing the law can be difficult, if law enforcement officials do not witness the incident. Troopers have issued citations after motorists have sped by them during a traffic stop.

“If you were to see any of these (emergency) vehicles on the side of the road, and you saw a vehicle pass without violating the law, you can pull that car over,” Sgt. Robert Watson said.

Watson said he is glad the law now includes wreckers, since it has helped protect emergency responders since the original law was enacted a few years ago.

“It’s very much necessary,” Watson said. “Historically speaking, we’ve had far more injuries and deaths to law enforcement officers from traffic situation than from assaults. I would like to urge everyone that if they approach any emergency vehicle or a wrecker on the side of the road to move over and use caution.”

Always Nice To See...

...profiles of towing businesses in publications other than Footnotes! Here's one on Green's Towing and Recovery of MI. Here's the Morning Sun story:

Jeremy Gepford has been working in the towing business since he was 18 years old, and he has seen his share of "the bad and the ugly" when it comes to accident scenes.

Gepford, 34, is co-owner of Green's Towing and Recovery, A-1 Towing, Action Towing, and Ace Towing, whose main office is located at 1504 N. Fancher St.

"We've been in business since 1981, and we're a corporation, my mom (Shirleen Gepford), my sister (Tiffany Gepford) and myself.

"It's a family business."

Gepford said that he has seen so many accident scenes that he does not remember the first one he ever saw.

"I've been around it all my life," Gepford said. "I'm used to that.

"Occasionally, I've seen people trapped in their vehicles. But, they all kind of blur into one."

The Green's Towing and Recovery Web site said that the company provides the service of accident recovery both on and off road, battery installation, commercial towing, and flatbed towing.

"We have 24-hour towing, roadside services, unlocks, jump starts, flat tires, light and medium duty towing, and long hauls as far away as Detroit," Gepford said.

Although business has been down somewhat due to the economy, Gepford said that all things considered, the businesses are doing OK.

Between the four towing companies, they employ four office workers and seven drivers.

"Safety is our number one priority for our personal drivers," Gepford said. "We would like for people to know that a tow truck is like any other emergency vehicle, and people need to slow down or move to another lane when you see them working along the road."

The company accepts most major road service insurance groups such as AAA, Allstate, Asurion Roadside Assistance services, Coach-Net Roadside Assistance, Cross County Motor Club, Geico, Road America, and local insurance companies.

"We work with law enforcement," Gepford said. "We're on the police rotation list for accidents and impounds.

"For instance, when they pull over a driver and they're drunk and get arrested and going to jail. We impound their vehicle in a fenced secured lot."

Gepford said that vehicles that have been in accidents get taken to their place where insurance adjusters decide on whether it will be repaired or scrapped.

There is a stack of cars that are waiting "to get crushed" on the office lot, Gepford said.

The company's Web site, www.greens24hrtowing.com lists the contact numbers as follows: in Mt. Pleasant: 989-772-0147 and 989-772-5454, in Rosebush: 989-433-5848, and in Shepherd: 989-828-7372 with office hours Monday thru Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Farewell, Friend

Our condolences to the family and acquaintances of 85-year old Ralph Waldo McGuffey, owner of McGuffey's Wrecker Service in Tallahassee, FL. He passed away from natural causes on Thursday, Aug. 6. Here's the WCTV news story of a tribute at his funeral:

A sea of tow trucks made their way from Quincy to Tallahassee, as a sign of respect for a man whose been in the wrecker business all his life.

More than 50 of the huge trucks took over the roads, making their way to the funeral of 85-year old Ralph Waldo McGuffey. He passed away Thursday, leaving behind a lifetime of working in the business he loved.

Those in attendance remember Ralph as a happy go lucky man, who would do anything for anyone.

"My son was like 16 years old he was on a tow truck over here and had some problems with it, he sent a man out, helped my son take care of the problem, wouldn't charge us a dime for helping us," says Spud White, who owns Gulf County Towing.

"I don't know of anybody who's come into contact with him that just hasn't absolutely fell in love with him. He was just a lovable likable man," says Rebecca Sheffield, Ralph's granddaughter.

Even towers who didn't work for Ralph say he treated everyone like family.

"I would consider him a father figure to me personally and to the whole industry, here in town and widespread," says Daniel Bartholf, the regional director for Florida Independent Towing Association.

"Everybody's in competition, but everybody's still like a big family that's how the wrecker business works," says Jeff Jones, of Jones Towing.

Ralph died of natural causes in his home, surrounded by people he loved.