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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingSeptember 19 - September 25, 2018

City, State
Providence, RI
(Pop. 179,154)
Cape Coral, FL
(Pop. 165,831)
Independence, MO
(Pop. 116,830)
Roseville, CA
(Pop. 128,382)
Light-Duty nonconsensual tow rates as provided by Police Towers of America.

Investigation Reveals Broken Contract

money a2ea4By Don Archer

In 2009, I lost the city towing contract due to the fact that the winning bidder put in a $0 bid. Not only did he agree to tow all city-owned vehicles—including the fire department's million-dollar-plus ladder trucks—for free, but he also bid $0 with regards to the amount of daily storage that would be collected for all vehicles towed under the city contract (non-consensual tows).

Fast-forward five years to the next bid process. Thinking that the existing contractor might have learned his lesson and would want to actually start making money by now, I bid $0 on everything hoping he'd get a taste of his own medicine. But he did me one better. Not only did he place a $0 bid as before, but he also promised to pay the city more than $7,600 annually.

Foiled again.

For better or worse on Jan. 1, 2015, I was left wanting, as he signed a new five-year contract.

Ten days later, there was a hit-and-run accident involving a suspected drunken driver who hit a parked car and fled the scene on foot. The city's contractor was called by the officer on scene to tow the suspect's truck (non-consensual tow).

My company was called, by owner's request, to tow the parked car that had been hit.

Now, I'd always suspected that the city's contractor had been gaming the system—promising not to charge storage but doing it anyway—but I'd never really looked into it or had the opportunity to find out for sure.

On a hunch, I kept my eye on this accident.

Approximately two weeks after the accident, I learned that the suspect's vehicle had been towed from the contractor's lot to a local body shop; and after contacting the vehicle owner, I acquired a copy of the contractor's tow bill. On that bill there was a charge for eight days of storage.

I had proof that the city's contractor was charging storage.

This was going against what they promised. They won the contact not because they were more able, more available or more compliant. They won because they offered to do it for less—because they knew that they were going to charge storage anyway—and they even offered to pay the city a bonus.

I cried foul. I wrote a letter to the chief of police, and provided a courtesy copy to the mayor and the city administrator. I included a copy of the invoice showing that storage had been collected and detailed everything that happened. I built a fairly convincing case that revealed how he was breaking the terms of the contract—a contract he'd signed only 10 days before.

I reasoned that I would have offered to pay the city much more than the $7,600 pittance my competitor offered had I known I would still be able to collect storage. However, I was under the impression that bidding $0 and signing a contract (had I won) would legally bar me from having the ability to collect storage.

Of course the contractor's excuses were easy to predict and my letter suggested the expected responses:
• "It was a clerical error."
• "That was a contract tow?"
• "That tow falls outside the scope of the contract."

And even though none of it was true, my letter also provided a simple way to determine the truth through a simple investigation into tows of a similar nature.

I sent the letter, and about a week later received a response from a police captain in charge of towing. His letter thanked me for bringing this to his attention. After discussing this matter with the city's contractor (he called it an investigation), he'd determined that it was merely an error on their part.

He also threw a seasoned police officer under the bus, saying that he failed to provide the contractor with a tow report at that time of the tow.

This was ridiculous because the city always delivers tow reports a few days after the tow.

No matter the excuses, the contractor knew it was a contract tow. At the scene that night, their driver discussed with my driver the facts surrounding the tow and the suspect who fled.

The captain's letter was disappointing to say the least; but what wasn't in the letter spoke volumes as to what I could expect going forward. It seemed the good captain had no interest in finding out the truth because there was no mention of an investigation into tows of a similar nature.

Not giving up, I contacted the captain and urged him to look into this further, reasoning that the city's contractor may have been doing this for the previous five years. I suggested that the issue is bigger than what the city wants or what I want.

What about the individuals and insurance companies who may have paid unnecessary, excessive fees? What about the possibility that the city has a relationship with a contractor who's scamming the system and operating fraudulently? What else might he do?

The captain labeled my fact-finding suggestions a fishing expedition and dismissed my argument altogether.

Don Archer lives and works in Jefferson City, Mo., where he and his wife, Brenda, own and operate Broadway Wrecker, a 12-truck operation that's been in business since the 1950s. Email him at

Storm Response Revisited

harvey dd8a0By Brian J. Riker

Hurricane Florence produced severe flooding from Virginia to the Carolinas and caused several deaths. It will require months of hard work by teams of dedicated professionals to clean up. Towmen have already stepped up to the task and are coming from across the country to lend a hand.

I would be derelict in my duties if I did not take this opportunity to remind you of some hazards and legalities of storm response. It is noble to want to help, but it must be done safely and legally.

Safety first, or as I prefer to say, safety always! With the immediate threat of the storm gone, you may be lulled into a false sense of security. Practice situational awareness at all times. Here are just a few of the many hazards that you may face during emergency storm response:

Missing sections of roadways, collapsed bridges or undermined pavement all pose a high risk of injury. Do not drive into floodwaters until they have receded enough to allow confirmation of safe road conditions.

Bacterial contamination in the water from damage to sewage treatment plants, failing septic systems and other infrastructure damage. Take precautions to avoid ingestion of floodwaters or direct exposure to your skin—especially if you have open cuts or sores.

Electrocution hazards from downed wires or flooded underground utility structures. Never assume that power is out until proven otherwise by a competent person from the electric utility service. As utility companies work to restore power they may miss some damage to their distribution system and could re-energize damaged lines accidentally.

Aggressive animals, snakes and marine life may pose a hazard if you are not alert for their presence. It is common for animals to be aggressive after a major storm; they are scared and confused, often displaced from their natural habitat and likely to strike.

Physical safety and security. Law enforcement resources are stretched beyond capacity during the initial phase of any natural disaster, which leads to an increase in theft and vandalism. Be alert for this type of activity, especially when working alone in remote neighborhoods.

Bring your own food and be prepared for limited supplies of fuel. I advise also bringing extra fuel filters and service equipment so that you can quickly repair your truck should you encounter water-contaminated fuel. Bottled water and other non-perishable food is easy to carry in the truck with you. I suggest being prepared for several days should you become stranded somewhere remote.

Waterlogged vehicles pose health hazards even after they have been drained of floodwaters. Mold and bacterial contamination grow quickly, becoming inhalation hazards. Take precaution to limit your exposure to the interior of these vehicles.

Flooded vehicles may have compromised safety systems. Even if they appear to be normal I advise against attempting to start them, as the supplemental restraint system, braking system and even the accelerator control system (gas pedal) may be compromised and could cause injury or death due to unexpected or unusual response.

Although the battery systems of electric vehicles are designed to remain safe from electrocution hazards when submerged, nothing is fail-safe. Always assume it is energized until proven otherwise; however do not attempt to disconnect the battery while still submerged. The presence of bubbling or fizzing from the battery compartment of electric vehicles is normal: it indicates the battery is not completely discharged. This process produces flammable gas and ventilation is recommended. Store these vehicles outdoors and away from all other vehicles, there is a possibility for them to catch fire are drying out due to short circuits, especially when exposed to salt water contamination.

There may also be communication issues. Cellphone service is likely to be disrupted when there are widespread power failures and fuel shortages. Two-way radio systems may be subject to interference from other local users since the licensing for those systems assume that users will remain local to their base location.

There are also legal issues to contend with. Depending on who requested your response, you may have some relief from state or federal motor carrier regulations. On Sept. 10, the FMCSA issued an emergency declaration of relief from some provisions of their regulations for motor carriers directly assisting in the emergency response.

This declaration does not supersede state-level licensing requirements nor does it apply to simple vehicle salvage operations such as transportation to salvage pool storage lots. The intent is to allow for unrestricted flow of emergency relief supplies such as food, water, fuel, generators, medical supplies and such.

If you are working at the request of a state, federal or local agency to clear the highway or assist with rescue efforts then you likely can use this emergency exemption. If you are only removing damaged vehicles from private property after an insurance company has declared them a loss, then you are still fully subject to all regulations including hours of service and state operating authorities, permits and licensing.

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