Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Part 2: Investigation: High Vehicle Towing, Storage Fees Leave Residents High and Dry
Vehicles seized for a DUI are stored at $3 a day, but for other traffic infractions storage rates jump to $28 a day--so, what gives?
There is a debate going on in Anchorage over towing as some, including Anchorage Assembly members, say predatory practices need to change.
But as the Eye Team discovered, even the Anchorage Police Department’s own contracts for towing could leave some stranded. As one woman found out, just because the Municipality of Anchorage drops charges, it doesn’t mean tow fees are dropped as well.
Roberta Guidry was arrested in the park on Campbell Airstrip Road on May 15. “I was homeless sleeping in my vehicle,” Guidry recalled.
She was charged with driving with a suspended license and failure to show proof of insurance. Her car –which she was living in at the time with her dog— was towed.
“The day after impound, the municipal office wants $1,500 bond, plus $400 and another fee of $200,” Guidry said. “So basically, the next day I needed $2,000. I don’t have it."
The municipality dropped its charges against Guidry four months later on Sept. 16.
”If the charges are dropped, then the municipality will no longer seek forfeiture or impound,” explained assistant municipal attorney Pamela Weiss. “There's still towing and storage—that's always separate.”
Guidry incorrectly assumed when her charges were dropped her tow fees would be dropped as well.
”Once my case was dismissed, it's like, ‘OK, now the muni only wants $200,’ but now my tow storage fees are $3,768,” said Guidry.
Her Jeep was stored on Aurora Towing’s lot under one of the three contracts the company has with the Anchorage Police Department.
”There are two different storage rates on those contracts,” said Weiss.
Vehicles seized for a DUI are stored at $3 a day. But for other traffic infractions, like Guidry's, the storage jumps to $28 a day. On a monthly income of $280, Guidry could not pay. On Saturday, Sept. 17, the day after her case was dismissed, Guidry’s Jeep was up for auction at Aurora Towing.
“It’s discriminatory against poor people,” said Guidry. “We don’t have the money for these kinds of fees. At $3 a day I could have gotten it back.”
City officials say the rates are different because the contracts were negotiated at different times. “In a perfect world, we would have all the contractors under one umbrella and using a similar rate charge across the board,” said Anchorage Assembly Public Safety Committee Chair Paul Honeman.
But, without $3,768, Guidry said she was out of options—her Jeep sold for $1,700.
Aurora Towing officials refused to comment on camera, but a manager did say in an email response that they do not negotiate fees with customers.
Guidry's case is just one of many that are prompting municipal officials to look at the entire set of towing and impounding codes
“Let’s not deal with this in nibblets,” said Mayor Dan Sullivan. “Let’s have a comprehensive review of the towing ordinance. Let’s involve the public, the industry, the assembly and let’s examine all that.”
Making tow rates consistent so no one is surprised when the bill comes in is something Honeman said he has been working on for months.
”There are some big changes coming,” he said. “There are a few things that we probably should have changed years ago, and we need to catch up with the rest of the world.”
Honeman said the changes to towing rules would be made public in October.
Guidry is still without a vehicle, but she does now have an apartment in Wasilla thanks to state housing assistance.