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Meeker's Had It With Predatory Towing

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker says he's fed up with the towing trouble in downtown.

An early morning phone call last weekend has inspired Meeker to take action to protect drivers from falling victim to towing companies.

Meeker has said that several towing companies are in violation of city law. He has ordered that signs be put up warning drivers about excessive towing from downtown parking spots, and he has asked that parking lots around the BTI Center be blocked off to prevent people from being towed.

According to state law, parking lot entrances as well as each and every space in the lot must have signs that clearly say who owns or leases the space. That way, it's less likely the wrong cars will be towed.

The private parking lot across the street from the Raleigh Convention Center claims to be a 24-hour private lot. But on nights and weekends, the place is empty, and many people have expected that they could park there. But that's not the case.

The city has been swamped with complaints. And for Meeker, a particular call Saturday night may have been the last straw.

Margaret Rose Murray was with several out-of-town friends when they returned to a lot near the BTI Center on Salisbury street. They discovered that their cars had been towed.

Murray said the lot was empty when she pulled in, so she thought nothing of the 24-hour private lot sign.

So, outraged by what happened, Murray called Meeker.

"I did apologize for calling him at 1:15 in the morning," Murray said.

Despite the lateness of the hour, Meeker sprang into action. He called Ace Towing, which had towed the cars, and asked them to release the vehicles to their owners.

The towing company told Meeker that it didn't care who he was and that the cost to get a car out was $125, cash only.

"Pedatory towing is really bad for Raleigh's image," Meeker said.

Murrary said that because the lot doesn't follow the law, her friends may get even with the towing companies.

"People are considering looking at attorneys to deal with this," she said.

Most lots around town do not follow the law stating that individual spots be marked. That means, if you've been towed, you could take the towing company and the lot owner to civil court.

One lot owner said he believes there's a gray area in the law that allows him to tow when he wants. Meeker has countered that misinterpretation of the law is not an excuse to violate the law.

Some private lots are now opening up to the public on the weekends for a small fee.

The City Council is scheduled to address the issue at a meeting on Dec. 18.

Murray, meanwhile, said the present situation still may not seem as bad if there were just more parking spaces available downtown.

Meeker has said there are three allowable places to park downtown: In designated spots along streets, in city-owned decks and spaces with meters.

But, even if the City Council chooses to address the issue, there still will be bad news if you've had your car booted.

Nowhere in the law does it state that lot owners can't put boots on your car.

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