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Owners Of Stolen Cars Feel Victimized Second Time With Charge Of Storage Fees

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RALEIGH, N.C. — In December, Sanford police busted a large car theft ring.

Police said thieves stole more than 70 cars and completely changed their vehicle identification numbers.In some cases, finding the rightful owners took months. During that time, the cars were in storage, racking up huge fees.

Three victims complained to Five On Your Side about having to pay to get their vehicles back.In Dec. 2001, Tony Douglas' 1989 Oldsmobile was stolen from outside his North Raleigh home.

In January 2003, Sanford police called to say Douglas' car was recovered 13 months earlier.

"I just figured I'd go get it," Douglas said.

When he called Bowen Garage, where the car was towed, Douglas was told he first had to pay six months of storage fees.

"It's like my car's being stolen again, except they're acting as if it's legal," Douglas said.

Douglas said he has been victimized twice -- first by thief who stole his car and a second time because of the storage fees.

Douglas said he was originally told it would cost him $4,000.

"Four thousand dollars? Why am I buying my car again? And I said, 'I can't afford that.' I said 'That's ridiculous,'" Douglas said. "I didn't pay that for the car three years ago."

Paige Bowen, the owner's daughter, told Douglas they could negotiate the fee.

"I'm thinking negotiate what? Why am I having to buy back my car?" Douglas asked with a laugh.

Douglas called Five On Your Side, which in turn called Bowen.

Bowen said she is just trying to recover her costs to store the car and wants no less than $1,000, saying she can sell the car for at least that amount.

Douglas said that does not seem right or legal.

"You shouldn't have to buy your car twice," he said.

The law allows tow companies to take over the titles of cars whose owners do not pay storage fees -- even if if the owner has no responsibility in why or where the vehicle was towed.

John Robinson is deputy director of the

Licensing and Theft Division

of the state Division of Motor Vehicles. He said since the


does not regulate fees, he cannot help Douglas or any of the other theft victims.

"We can't tell them to charge $100 or $1,000. They do that on their own," Robinson said."There's no law on the book to say that you violated this statute for charging any citizen an amount. We can't say whether you are over or whether you are under."

Legal or not, Douglas does not think it is fair.

"I'm not paying. That's not right. That's extortion. Everybody knows extortion's wrong," said.

Even though the state does not regulate fees, many municipalities, including Sanford, limit how much tow yards can charge. Douglas and the others who complained to Five On Your Side did not have insurance against theft. If they had, the insurance would have covered tow and storage fees.