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Leeches Or The Public's Friend?

May 18, 2007
By TINA A. BROWN, Courant Staff Writer

Motorists and tow truck drivers in Hartford have gotten into disputes -- even physical confrontations -- in recent weeks over what critics say are aggressive towing tactics used by drivers who haul vehicles from private property. In the most publicized incident, a nephew of Mayor Eddie A. Perez was arrested after he allegedly assaulted a tow truck driver who was towing his car. More recently, police threatened a tow driver with arrest unless he returned a condominium resident's car mistakenly towed from her lot. Hyacinth Yennie, a Hartford community leader, and Donald Weisman, a lawyer who represents many of the state's towing companies, offer their views.

"I'm totally outraged about my experience with them. I parked in a Walgreens lot and walked over to the community court, where I had been invited to speak to students. I thought [my van] was safe over there because I planned to go to the pharmacy when I got back.

[A towing company] took my van and messed up my transmission.

I was only there less than an hour. There should be some regulation if you are parked there for five hours or overnight. They should upgrade the regulations in towing. I don't think I'm the only person who has problems with towing.

It is a sad situation. They asked for $104. It had to be paid in cash. Where does all that cash go? The pharmacy said they didn't tow it. [The towing company] told me they knew I didn't go into the pharmacy. We should look at the legislation to see what we can do to regulate that kind of thing. I'm not the only person who had this terrible experience. We definitely need to do something.

We call them crooks. They are leeches, that's what they are. They do a lot of towing downtown of cars owned by college kids from out of state. They parked their cars somewhere, and they are towed. The [tow truck] drivers are aggressive when it comes to towing. That's how they make their dollars."

- Hyacinth Yennie, community organizer

"The industry is probably one of the highest-regulated industries that there is by the Department of Motor Vehicles and state. [Tow companies] contract with municipalities. Hartford has an unusual situation. For every single tow, the towing company has to remit a $20 administrative fee to the city of Hartford, even if the vehicle doesn't get picked up. I represent most of the towing and recovery professionals of Connecticut. We'd like the public to be informed. Towing companies are getting a bad rap.

There's a contract with most of the shopping centers and banks. We have signs posted in the lot. We are watching. Walgreens has only so many places to park. If everyone who goes to the courthouse parks in the Walgreens, there would be no places to park. Trespass parking is always a problem. People park at fire hydrants and in the entrances of emergency rooms. Everyone thinks the tow companies are getting fat and rich; they are not. People park illegally because they don't want to pay for parking. They will park in your parking spot. I have a sign in my lot that says, "Don't even think of parking here."

Half of the cars that are towed in Hartford don't get picked up. You've got a junk car and now the car is in an accident. Now, the police department comes along and says "you have to remove that car." Now the towing company has to send you out a notice in Hartford and they have to remit $20 and nobody picks up the car. They have to pay a fee to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get rid of the car. All this is expensive. It costs $88 for the tow.

In every profession there are some bad apples. I can't speak for them. When there's a snowstorm who does the governor call to come clear the road? Sometimes you get a tractor-trailer that is so damaged ...they'll spend four hours out there. They don't get paid for every tow.

If you talk to tow companies in Hartford, Waterbury and New Haven, a third of the vehicles don't get picked up. That's why the drivers take cash ahead of time.

We're the public's friend."

- Donald Weisman, lawyer for towing companies


Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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