More after the jump.
It turns out Xeni knows Scott Shulman, so I called him and asked him for the details. He kindly shared his story with me.
About a year ago, Scott and his wife were driving around the Venice area of Los Angeles on a Sunday morning when he got a frantic phone call from his daughter. She told him that she had driven to a mini-mall to shop at her favorite pet store, located in the mini-mall. She’d parked in the mini-mall lot. (Scott told me that there were only one or two other cars in the lot at the time, and that the lot has about 100 parking spaces. So the lot was almost empty.)
After parking, Scott’s daughter walked to the ATM, which was adjacent to the mini-mall. After a 90-second stop at the ATM to get cash to spend at the pet store, she returned to the parking lot to find that her car was hitched to a tow truck. The driver had been hiding around the corner, waiting for an opportunity like this.
Scott’s daughter pleaded with the tow truck driver to speak with her father on the phone, and the driver finally agreed. He said he’d “drop the car” if Scott came immediately with $200, cash only. “I’m ready to pull out,” he warned. Scott was about four miles away and he told the driver to wait, and he drove as quickly as he could to the mini-mall.
“When I got there,” says Scott, “the first thing I did was block him in with my car. I told him, ‘I’m not moving until you drop my daughter’s car.'” The driver was unhappy about this, and warned Scott that he’d called another tow truck to haul away Scott’s car unless he moved his car out of the way immediately. Scott told the driver that he was going to call the Sheriff, which he did.
Twenty minutes later, says Scott, two “very nice” deputies arrived and assessed the situation. They told Scott that they’d had a lot of trouble with this particular towing company, but could not order the driver to drop the car, because the lot was private property.
Around this time, the owner of the towing company showed up. He, too, refused to drop the car, even when the owner of the pet store came out and requested that they drop it.
By now, Scott’s daughter’s car had been held captive for an hour and a half. The deputies told Scott that they would happily appear in court to testify on his behalf against the towing company, and that Scott would very likely win a quadruple damages judgment (about $800). At this point, the tow truck driver angrily called it quits and dropped the car.
That week, Scott called the West Hollywood City Council and learned that towing companies are required by law to accept credit cards, even though most of them insist on cash (imagine how many people would dispute the credit charges from a towing company!) and that they cannot charge more than the police garage charges (around $130).
Lesson? Do everything you legally can to keep the tow truck driver from driving away with your car. You just might win.