News 11 Investigation: Toledo's Tow Trap

By Jonathan Walsh - bio | email

Posted by Nick Dutton - email

UPDATE: Toledo city leaders say they're open to possibly changing city policy when it comes to impound lot fees. The Law and Criminal Justice Committee held a hearing on Monday, May 4.

After the hearing, members of council said the issue needs more discussion.

"When I first heard about it and I thought, here again is a law abiding citizen paying more to the government and that is surely nothing I am in favor of," says Toledo City Councilman Tom Waniewski.

More of the hearing on News 11 at 11.

D. Michael Collins
District 2 (Independent)

Tom Waniewski
District 5 (R)

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Is the City of Toledo unfairly collecting money from crime victims? A recent victim is posing the question and News 11 is investigating.

This all started with a stolen car. As part of full disclosure, someone on our production crew had a car stolen in front of her apartment building. It's her father-in-law's car, and she just happened to mention to me one night, 'Hey, did you know what the city charges to tow a car?'

From there, you may be surprised to see what news 11 uncovered.

Hal Jenks had been letting his son and daughter-in-law use his car. They had it parked on 16th Street, and someone overnight recently busted out the locks and the ignition, hot wired it and got away. A couple days later, police found it in-tact at the corner of Collins and Lawrence. Police had it towed to the city's storage lot on Dura near Detroit.

Hal goes to pick it up and he has to pay $125 just for the tow. "I said to the police, 'I didn't want it stolen. I'm a victim here. They said, 'That's just the way it goes.'"

After hearing Hal's story, News 11 found out how it really goes when it comes to towing.

Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre says in 2008 the city's lot made $2.1 million. 8464 cars were towed. A standard tow costs 125 dollars.

"I'm not the only one. A lot of people who are victims of crime are ending up having to pay the price, and it just doesn't seem right," said Jenks.

Of the 8464 cars towed last year, 586 were stolen vehicles. Of those, 500 were returned to their owners. Those 500 owners had to pay big bucks just for the tow.

We called all 10 tow companies contracted with the city and told them we needed help with an Olds Cutlass -- the same car Hal had towed -- using the same route his car took when towed by the city. We were told $63, $55, and $64.

All 10 companies gave us quotes of much less than $125 dollars. In fact, the same company that towed Hal's car, Hammer's Towing, told us, "$45, plus tax."

So why the big difference? Here's the deal.

Chief Navarre says the police department gets $50 of the $125 total, and the tow company gets $75 dollars.

Even those who have their car stolen have to pay. But if you have your TV stolen, and then the police recover it, you don't have to pay to get it back.

We went to Hammer's Towing to see if the folks there think the system is fair. We told them about our phone call and us getting a quote from them of $45 for the same tow that cost Hal $125.

Hammer's response

The manager told News 11's Jonathon Walsh, "When the police call, you got to jump on it right away. You got 30 minutes to get there."

So that justifies the extra cost?

"That's the big thing, yes. Yeah."

Can you see why Hal is a little upset?

"I understand."

He's not the first one. He's probably not going to be the last one.

"Until they change the rate, yes."

You see, city council sets the rates and the Toledo Towing Association President Jerry Throne from Throne's Towing says the companies have to have drivers ready 24/7. They have a half-hour to jump on the city's call, and they need a million-dollar insurance umbrella on their businesses. "The difference in cost is because of the half-hour and because of the increase in insurance costs," said Throne.

Even with the city taking $50 of the tow, not everyone is quick to agree. Hammer says the system is set up fairly. Councilman Mike Collins asks, "Why would they keep $50 for the tow? That will be my question."

Coucilman Mike Collins chairs the Law and Criminal Justice Committee and helps oversee fines and fees. He voted for the most recent storage lot fee increase last July, but says he was unaware of the $50 the police department collects per tow. As a former police officer himself, Collins says, "The tow lot is an extension of the property room. I think the argument can be made since we don't charge to return a TV set to its rightful owner, after the evidentiary value of that has been resolved, why would a car be different?"

Chief Navarre did say the tow lot became a more convenient one-stop-shop for car owners, so they don't have to go all over town to individual tow companies trying to track down their vehicles. Police Captain Paul Long says the lot is safe and secures the owners' vehicle and property.

Navarre tells us the city's storage lot does cost money to operate. However, the tow lot also makes $15-a-day per vehicle for storage fees. These are fees crime victims have to pay if their cars are stored. Hal had to pay an additional $45 for the three days his car spent in the lot.

Cars that are not returned to owners are sold, and the city makes money on them.

In all, the storage lot brought in $2.1 million in 2008. Of that, $1.15 million of that went into the general fund after storage lot costs. Chief Navarre says because of a fee increase, the city should see even more money in 2009.

It's a formula Collins wants to take a deeper look at. Hal says the tow system is questionable. "I don't think that's a good way for the city to be generating revenue."

Because of News 11 taking action, Councilman Collins says he has sent out notices to tow companies and the police department to explain the fees. That discussion will take place this Monday, May 4 at 3:00 p.m. in City Council Chambers.

D. Michael Collins
District 2 (Independent)

Tom Waniewski
District 5 (R)

What do you think about the towing situation. Leave us your comments below.

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