City starts investigation, says Longhorn Wrecker did not have valid contract to tow cars from post office
At least 30 parade-goers’ cars were towed from the post office parking lot on Oak Lawn Avenue, possibly illegally, on Sept. 20. Retrieving their vehicles cost each person $138 if they had proof of ownership, $148 if they did not.
Brandon Rodriguez was among those whose cars were towed by Longhorn Wrecker.
Signs warning not to use the parking lot were covered by bushes before the event, and the bushes were cut down after the cars were towed, Rodriguez said. Rodriguez said he saw the tow truck drivers doing damage to vehicles, although no damage was done to his car.
He said in one case a car window was broken by the tow truck driver to release a parking brake. Other cars were scratched and had damage done to lights and bumpers.
Rodriguez took pictures of the damage he saw the tow truck drivers doing.
"We were told by police to do incident reports," Rodriguez said. But he said the police appeared helpless to stop the removal of cars from the lot.
He said that one car with children in it was blocking a tow truck from exiting the parking lot. The tow truck driver acted as though he was going to ram the car until police intervened in that incident.
McKinney Boyd, U.S. Postal Service spokesperson for the Dallas area, said, "I don’t think we contract with any towing company to remove cars."
Susan Stanford, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation in Austin, said her agency has six complaints against Longhorn Wrecker. Those date only from 2008 when her department took over responsibility for tow truck companies from the Texas Department of Transportation.
Three of them remain open, Stanford said. One was closed for insufficient evidence and another was resolved with the complaint withdrawn. The sixth resulted with a $1,000 penalty.
The fine against Longhorn Wrecker was for performing a non-consent tow and taking the vehicle to a lot other than the designated storage facility.
Rodriguez contacted the city about the incident and is working with officials on an investigation.
Gary Titlow, manager of transportation regulation for the city of Dallas, said he has assigned an investigator to the case.
"My investigator has spoken to a Longhorn representative and they did not have a valid contract to tow at the post office," Titlow said.
Walgreens on the corner of Oak Lawn Avenue and Cedar Springs Road does have a current contract with Longhorn Wrecker. But store employees rolled their eyes when the company was mentioned.
Still, store manager John Romans said he has not had a problem with them.
Asked if his customers had experienced damage to their vehicles after being towed from his lot, Romans said, "No. Not at all. That’s crazy."
He said he contracts with a parking company on Friday and Saturday nights that turns the back lot into paid parking for the entertainment district.
On those nights, he said, someone from Longhorn Wrecker monitors the front parking area. Someone walking into the store first would not be towed, he said, even if they walk down the street after shopping at Walgreens.
A store sign in the lot warns patrons that parking is limited to half an hour. Romans said that is not strictly enforced.
On weeknights, he said, it is not an issue and the lot is not monitored. But he did ask that people not use his lot "for hours and hours."
Stanford said complaints about towing companies need to be filed with a justice of the peace within 14 days of an incident.
Titlow asked that anyone whose car was towed or damaged on parade day at the post office step forward. Contact Jesse Ballou, the investigator on the case, at 214-670-3358.
Titlow said Ballou will need a copy of the receipt from Longhorn, a written statement and any pictures of damage.
Longhorn Wrecker did not return calls seeking comment on this report.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 24, 2009.
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