Thursday, December 11, 2008
Retriever Towing Apologizes, Refunds Drop Fee To Domestic Violence Victim In Oregon After National Outcry And Some Canceled Contracts
Officials for an Oregon tow company reversed course on Wednesday December 10th, 2008, promising to refund a "drop fee" charged to a domestic assault victim who couldn't move her double-parked car until police completed their investigation and returned her keys. Latest media story published by OregonLive, the website of the Portland Oregonian. Additional media story with video link by KATU Channel 2 and KPTV Channel 12, both in Portland.
Gary Coe, owner of Retriever Towing, said the company would give a Wilsonville woman a check for $165 -- the amount she paid in cash on Monday December 8th to have the driver release her car at the Berkshire Court Apartments. Coe also pledged to make a $500 donation to Rafael House of Portland, a shelter for battered women and children. He said Retriever has received more than 600 complaints on the company's website and "dozens of calls from people upset with us" since the incident came to light. Retriever has more than 2,000 contract accounts, patrolling parking lots to make sure fire lanes and emergency access routes remain open. [Ed. Note: Critics of Retriever Towing might want to keep in mind that the woman here had parked in a fire lane, which, if a fire had broken out and fire department access hindered, resulting in injuries or death, could have resulted in serious legal problems for the complex's management. This is probably why the contract with Retriever called for preemptive "patrol towing".]
Mark Harris, portfolio manager for Guardian Management, which operates the apartment complex, said he generally has been pleased with Retriever's service. "But I told them that once an officer identified himself and explained that the vehicle was involved in a criminal investigation, the driver should have backed away," Harris said. "Sometimes common sense has to take over." He's also said he was evaluating whether to cancel Retriever's contract. One other Retriever client, Windermere Cronin & Caplan Realty Group, has already canceled his company's contract with Retriever.
What triggered the furor? On Monday December 8th at 8:54 P.M., a 25-year-old woman called police, reporting that her live-in boyfriend had hit her. The woman was calling from her grandmother's apartment in the same complex, where she drove after she bolted from her own apartment. Seeing no empty parking spaces, she left her car double-parked in a fire lane with the four-way flashers going.
Deputies arrived minutes later to investigate and arrested 25-year-old Patrick James Apodaca on an accusation of fourth-degree assault. However, when deputies returned to the grandmother's apartment, the woman's car was hooked up to a tow truck and the woman was frantic. Deputy Wes Hall said he explained to the driver that the woman was a domestic-assault victim and that she couldn't move the car because she had given him the keys. He said that after making a phone call the driver declined to release the car unless she paid the fee.
An Associated Press story documents an additional complication. Retriever drivers are paid commission only. This means that had the driver waived the tow fee, the driver would have walked away completely empty-handed for his effort. This could be corrected by paying drivers a small base salary, then a larger commission for a tow itself.
Already the OregonLive story has attracted public comments by others detailing additional horror stories about Retriever Towing and other similar outfits. One commenter stated that Retriever Towing preemptively towed his vehicle because the driver believed it was leaking gas (the adjacent vehicle was the culprit). While in Retriever's custody, the vehicle was broken into and the stereo stolen. No matter - Retriever not only failed to make good the lost, but still demanded a ransom fee, which the vehicle's owner ultimately paid.
An excellent source of background and supplemental information on this case and others like it in Oregon is provided by Sean Cruz, who edits the PatrolTowing blog. In this particular post, Cruz not only lists additional media links to this story, but also chronicles legislative efforts to curb the practice of "patrol towing", stating that Oregon is the only West Coast state permitting it. Other states require a call to the tow company first before the company can go into action.
Complaints against Retriever Towing are not new. RipoffReports documents one complaint dating back to 2005. However, Retriever is not the only company engaging in predatory practices; KATU reported on an incident in Hillsboro, OR involving Sergeants Towing in which they towed the vehicle of a man whose wife had gone into labor. Police mediation on the scene failed to dissuade the tow company from towing the vehicle. Other problems with Sergeants Towing are documented HERE.
In Utah, the Department of Public Safety outlines its official towing policy HERE. However, this generally applies to public roadways; private property may have different policies in place. Apartment complexes generally have their policies prominently posted.