Friday, July 30, 2010

CO Tow Co. Hit With $208K In Fines

Here's the News 7 story:
DENVER -- A Denver towing company that was the subject of a CALL7 Investigation is now facing $208,725 in civil penalties from the state Public Utilities Commission.

"The PUC has probably caught me running without a permit and insurance. I think they got me this time," said Lyons Towing owner Randy Lyons in a phone conversation with CALL7 Investigator Tony Kovaleski.

The PUC penalty notice is dated July 20 and lists 105 violations between June 16 and July 1.

The violations include operating without insurance and operating after being notified of a suspension by the PUC.

The fines would be reduced to $104,362 if paid by July 30.

"It's a pretty significant penalty," said PUC spokesman Terry Bote.

One of the vehicles towed while the company was allegedly without insurance and a permit was Cody Naughton's Ford Bronco.

"I thought my car was stolen," said Naughton.

His father is well-known car dealer Mike Naughton.

"It's wrong. I'm going after them. I want my money back and my time and I'm not the only one," said Mike Naughton.

In November 2008, the CALL7 Investigators reported that Lyons Towing accounted for 27 percent of all towing complaints filed with the PUC in the prior 12 months -- the most of any towing company in Colorado.

State regulations require that tow truck drivers offer a drop fee of no more than $70 (in 2008 it was $64) to people who come upon their vehicle being towed, and tow companies cannot take vehicles unless the lot owner or his or her representative is present to sign the ticket. The towing company or its employees cannot be a designated representative.

The complaints filed in 2008 as well as 7NEWS hidden cameras showed that Lyons Towing did not always follow regulations.

"It's horrible, and I thank you for showing this to us," said PUC director Doug Dean in 2008, after he was shown some of the undercover video. "It's something we need to go out and do more investigations on and put this company on notice that this type of behavior is not going to be tolerated in Colorado."

On Oct. 9 of that year, Lyons towed a 7NEWS "bait" vehicle out of a lot at 14th Avenue and Pennsylvania Street. At first, they offered a news producer the $64 drop fee, but when he returned to the lot with the money the tow driver pulled away, taking the vehicle.

"I've got 64 bucks -- I've got your money!" the producer yelled, running alongside the tow truck.

Lyons employees charged that producer $240 to get the vehicle released at the tow yard.

When the producer complained while picking up the truck, Lyons employees said he can either pay the full tow charge or the company can keep the vehicle.

The following day, in the same lot, the Lyons driver was again on hidden camera and this time did not offer the "drop fee."

"This is my car right there. I want it," the 7NEWS employee said, in 2008.

"Call the number on the sign," the driver said.

"But I want it right now," the 7NEWS employee said.

Again Lyons Towing employees did not care when the person complained that the driver did not offer the drop fee.

"What you are trying to tell me, and argue your point, is pointless pretty much ... because you are not going to get anywhere," an employee told the producer on hidden camera, in 2008.

In both cases, there was neither a lot owner nor representative of the Salvation Army, which owns the lot, on site to point out the vehicle and sign the tow ticket. That is a violation of state regulations.

And in both cases, the drivers wrote that they offered the drop fee on the tow tickets.

On two other occasions, Lyons Towing employees accepted the drop fees when 7NEWS vehicles were being towed.

When confronted with video of the company's actions, Randy Lyons returned our $480.

The 2008 CALL7 Investigation led to fines against the company and new towing regulations statewide.

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