Local News

Debate Over Predatory Towing Reaches New Level

Posted July 27, 2004 11:59 a.m. EDT

— The fiery debate over towing in downtown Raleigh hit a potentially dangerous level this week.

Marshall Gentry's car was towed from a parking lot on Hillsborough Street in spite of his claim that he parked legally. His argument with the tow-truck driver got so heated that both men both pulled out guns.

"I explained to him why it was legal for me to have parked there and should not have been towed," Gentry said. "The guy gets really defensive and pulls a gun on me."

The tow-truck driver said he was acting in self defense.

Gentry was not alone in his complaint about being towed. Several customers at a nearby pizza restaurant said they, too, have been towed.

The property owner routinely has had cars towed from the restaurant parking lot. The towing company said it only tows people who are not eating at the restaurant.

According to the signs on the property, you must patronize the businesses in order to park in the lot. But the signs say nothing about what happens if you leave the premises -- you get towed.

How do they know? A lot of businesses use spotters, people who watch drivers and call the towing company. The towing company WRAL spoke to Tuesday said it does not use spotters.

A woman named Katie had her car towed even though she was eating at the restaurant when her vehicle was hauled away. She had a receipt to prove it.

"I like the pizza place," Katie said. "But not if it is a $120 piece of pizza."

The tow-truck driver charged Katie $120 to get the car back and wrote "non customer" on the payment slip.

"When you are a valid customer, and you are parked there for good reason, you shouldn't have to be penalized for it," Katie said.

The towing company was hired by the landowner, Valentine's Property, to keep non-customers out of the parking lot. According to tow-truck driver Kevin Rhodes, if customers park in the lot and then go to another store before or after they eat, they will be towed.

"I don't understand why people get upset about this," Rhodes said. "If they made a mistake, they should admit it. If we do, we admit it."

Mayor Meeker is trying to pass an ordinance that would ban what many call predatory towing.

"If the (City) Council doesn't take action, the next council will," Meeker said.

The situation has upset a lot of customers of the pizza restaurant. Both the property owner and the towing company said the restaurant is on board with their policy.

The business owner did not respond to WRAL's request for an interview Tuesday.