Chapel Hill towing company goes high-tech to silence critics
Posted February 22, 2012 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated February 22, 2012 7:51 p.m. EST
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Inside his modest office on the outskirts of Chapel Hill, the owner of George King Towing Service uses a computer and monitors to keep track of parking violators.
“This is the new age of towing,” King says, watching about a dozen surveillance cameras he installed in each Franklin Street private parking lot he's hired to tow from.
The warning signs make it clear – someone's watching. In an industry slammed for predatory towing, the cameras help settle disputes. King says he saves the videos for at least six months.
“This way, we can verify everything,” King said. "People just make excuses instead of just telling the truth … A lot of them want to scream and whine and cry and say, 'Why did you tow my vehicle? I was inside the business.' And I'll say, 'No, I'm sorry. You weren't.'"
In one disputed case, which WRAL News witnessed, the video shows a man and woman park and leave one of the lots.
“See him with his trench coat on? Right there, he's walking,” King said. “There they go, right off the property.”
Kenny Grabarczyk was one of the violators King caught after his Camaro was parked in a marked tow-zone for more than two hours.
"Everybody else parks wherever the hell they want to, and I park one place just to take care of something in a centralized location and, damn, my car gets towed," Grabarczyk said. "And I ain't got $100."
Complaints about towing recently forced Chapel Hill to change its ordinance. Companies must now put up more signs and can't tow a car more than 15 miles from the original site. They also must accept credit cards and provide receipts.
King says cameras not only allow businesses to keep better track of the restricted lots, they also provide video parking proof for everyone involved.
“I can lie and you can lie, but that video right there's going to tell you exactly what happened,” he said. “It covers me. It covers the property owner, and it also covers the person who parked the car and walked off.”
Katie Perry, a bartender and server at Vespa Ristorante, says that, while she hates to see anyone towed, she admits spaces need to be saved for customers.
“It’s a very awkward and unfortunate event when it happens,” she said. “A lot of people park here so they don't have to pay for a metered space, which at that point, it's a better use of your time to just put that 25 cents in instead of taking a space that you know you're not using that business for.”