Salisbury Council Hears Mixed Message On Tow Changes

SALISBURY – A public hearing was held on Monday evening in regards to the city’s towing ordinance, providing the opportunity for those victimized by local towing companies to air their concerns.

Jim Richardson of Claiborne, Md., and his wife were passing through Salisbury last week when they stopped for dinner at the Back Street Grill and accidentally parked in the neighboring lot of Glidden Professional Paint Center. Consequently, their car was towed by Adkins Towing Company.

“I ran out to find a tow truck driver had already hooked a cable to our front axle but the car was still in the parking lot, it wasn’t on the truck and I asked the driver to release my car,” Richardson said. “I expected to pay something but I thought it would only be reasonable for him to release my car … he said ‘the only way you’re going to get your car is to come up with $175 in cash’.”

According to Richardson, the tow truck driver refused to take him to an ATM and added that he would have to pay an additional $75 for an overnight storage fee. The Richardsons arrived at the Adkins Towing office and the owner refused to release the vehicle.

“I did the only thing I knew … I called the Salisbury Police Department and I’m grateful to them because they intervened,” Richardson said. “They called Ms. Adkins and finally she sent someone out at 9 o’clock and this all stated at 6:30 …we gave them the $200 we had and she threatened us that if we didn’t come up with other $50 which we owed she said ‘I’ll drive to St. Michaels and find you’.”

According to Richardson, “predatory towing” is not an uncommon problem in many cities across the country.

“Cities have failed to pass specific ordinances that govern what towing companies may charge or describe the circumstances in which a car may be towed will continue to experience problems from these predatory towing companies,” he said. “Some cities have serious parking problems but have passed laws that limit what towing companies can do as well as provide certain protections to the car owner.”

Richardson provided the council with suggestions to be included in the proposed towing ordinance to avoid situations like he experienced. The owner or the agent of the vehicle must be in presence when the car is being towed, the owner or the agent must give written authorization on the site of the tow, within one hour prior to removing a vehicle from private property the owner or agent of the property must give written authorization that includes the time they first noticed the vehicle, the time they called the tow truck company, the license number, their signature, job title, their address and phone number.

“This would eliminate the tow company trucks just running around town and observing a car that is illegally parked and just towing it away,” he said.

Salisbury resident Charles James had his vehicle break down on the side of Route 50 and Delaware Avenue at 4 a.m. A police officer assisted James which resulted in the officer having to call the first tow company on the police tow license rotation, which was 56th Street Towing, also known as Parson’s. James’ vehicle was towed back to his residence and he was then charged $225 for the four-mile tow.

“The trouble is there is no control on these towing companies,” he said. “You’re at their mercy and they know it … someone needs to come up with some rules.”

Gary Pusey of Gary Pusey Quality Cars in Fruitland believes that the fees and some of the rules and regulations included in the proposed towing ordinance are “unjust”.

“These prices that have been suggested … we’re going backwards just as fast as we can in this business,” he said.

Pusey asked the council to keep in mind the responsibility a tow company takes on when they tow and store a vehicle or when a tow driver has to wake up at 3 a.m. to report to an accident scene. He added that a new equipped tow truck costs around $90,000 plus the costs to insure the truck, put a driver behind the wheel and to put fuel in it.

“Please don’t expect for drivers and companies to go out when they can sit home and look out the window and make just as much money … there is just no point in it if you cut this thing too thin,” he said.

Pusey suggested for the city to monitor tow companies on a complaint basis.

“Deal with the people that are problem children but deal with them as they come instead of punishing everybody,” he said.

Pusey asserted that a quality tow company needs to be compensated for work, time and the experience necessary to operate a legitimate tow company.

“I’m afraid if something doesn’t change from what we heard you’re going to lose probably 90 percent of your good tow companies,” he said.

Police Chief Barbara Duncan recommended the city adopt a tow fee schedule similar to the Town of Ocean City because the fees appear to be representative of those followed by other jurisdictions in the state.

Duncan also suggested the council consider a provision instituted by Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. They both apply an administrative fee of $25 and $50 for vehicle owners failing to claim their cars from tow lots within a specified time.

The council expressed eagerness to take into account the public hearing speakers’ concerns and suggestions and to discuss the towing ordinance in a future work session.