Towing Victims Question Practices of Raleigh Company
Posted May 22, 2002 12:30 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C., MAY 5, 1998 — Lots of folks know the aggravation of having their car towed. But imagine how angry you'd be if you paid cash to the towing company get it back and then found out it had been parked legally. It happened to a Wake County woman who called 5 On Your Side's Monica Laliberte for help.
It's Raleigh after dark. There are more people than people than parking spaces. Park in the wrong spot and you could be ticketed, or worse, your car could be towed! But you could be towed even if you park in the right spot!
Amy Ballinger and a friend parked their cars in a lot on Hargett Street last month while they visited a nearby restaurant.
"I looked around to see if I saw any signs, any marked spaces, anything that would say this is not a lawful place to park." Seeing no signs, they left their vehicles. When they returned, their cars were gone. Since Brentwood Towing is located across the street. Ballinger went to ask if their cars had been towed.
"They said 'yes,' and 'it will cost you $85 in cash to get it back.'" When Ballinger questioned why no signs were posted, an off duty Raleigh Police officer working for Brentwood as a security guard, pointed to a sign posted in front of an adjacent business -- Goodwin's Sand and Gravel. "As you can see, this sign is turned in such a way that it doesn't seem to reference the lot next door. And it's turned in such a way that when you park there you can't see it." Ballinger eventually paid the $85 towing fee, plus a $15 storage fee. Still outraged, she called Goodwin's Sand and Gravel to complain about the sign only to find out Goodwin's does not own the lot where she parked. The lot is owned by Ready Mix Concrete and has no contract with Brentwood to have cars towed from there. "It's common thievery to go and take a car where you have no right to possess a car and hold it for a cash ransom. It's wrong." Brentwood owner Rick Walker did not want to go on camera, but says an inexperienced driver, working on commission, simply made a mistake. Walker told 5 On Your Side he'll pay back Ballinger and her friend, as well as two other people whose cars were towed from the lot that night. Amy Ballinger is glad about that, but like some of the 22 people who have filed complaints against Brentwood with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office in the last three years, she questions some of Brentwood's other business practices: their rates and their "cash only" policy. Especially since no ATM machines are located nearby, and without a car. there's no way to get to one.
Walker says he requires cash because people can stop payment on checks and credit cards. As for the complaints, he says considering the number of cars he tows -- roughly 800 a month -- the complaints are miniscule. He adds "in this business we've never had a happy customer and never will."
The Attorney General's office is looking into Brentwood's towing practices.
Brentwood's owner says he will install an ATM machine to make it easier for people to get their cars back.