Citizens seek answers over "unfair" towing

Customers say Interstate Towing put these signs up after they parked by Conseco Fieldhouse.

Update: Eyewitness News spoke with City-County Councilor Ryan Vaughn. He plans to introduce new legislation to protect you that would first require licensing of towing operators; also no kick-back provisions where parking lot owners get a piece of the towing fee; and towing lots where they store your vehicle must be in the county or no more than five to ten miles outside, and a fixed price from $100 to $150 dollars for non-consent tows; and towing companies must be transparent about their fees.

INDIANAPOLIS - Towing companies provide a necessary service, especially in time of need such as traffic or snow emergencies. But some companies are taking advantage of a loophole in state law.

13 Investigates went undercover for three months to see what viewers have been complaining about to Eyewitness News and found there may be some truth to what many call "unfair towing."

It happens all over town.

"He's got my car. He's holding my car hostage," said towing victim Donny Jones.

So Jones got in his car, set the parking brake and called police.

"The officer told them 'You're stealing their cars, that's exactly what you're doing. You are stealing their cars'," Jones said.

His car was hooked by Northside Towing from a parking lot across from Birdy's Bar & Grill at 71st Street and Keystone. Jones says signs that warn "No Parking" did not exist.

"They were just coming to this lot and picking them up as fast as they can and taking them away," he said.

Thanks to police, he got his $100 drop fee back. But more than 50 others near Conseco Fieldhouse weren't so lucky.

"I came out and all of our cars were gone. There were no signs nowhere, man," said a witness.

"We clearly looked for signs to make sure that we wouldn't be towed. There was a guy standing there and charged us $20 to park in the lot," said another person.

Police on the scene told victims standing outside the towing company at Delaware and South they were going to do a case report on the civil matter.

"I'm going to go take a picture of the sign on the parking lot," an officer said.

Coy Graham is one of dozens of people who say signs were put up after they left Clear Channel's private lot. When he returned from the Professional Bull Riding event, he says he saw new signs and freshly-drilled holes that he calls evidence. Police saw it, too.

"He went down and took pictures and verified that there were metal shavings on top of the snow," Graham said.

Eyewitness News wanted to talk with Interstate Towing, but was sent to their lawyer, who said "No Parking" signs were posted in clear view.

"The law doesn't require signs be posted at all," said attorney Brent Embrey.

But Indiana Code does require companies to wait 24 hours before towing, unless it interferes with normal business operations or poses a threat to safety or security. That's when a car can be towed immediately.

"The lot was entirely full, parking lanes were parked in and there were other people over on shoulders," Embrey said.

But Graham disagrees. He's suing to get his $182 towing fee back.

"I hopefully walk out with my money that I lost and maybe get the city to pass new rules and regulations regarding towing," he said.

"It's very subjective," said Embrey.

That subjectivity gives towing companies the power to hook up and take off with your vehicle, based on their rules that you don't even know exist. During our three-month Eyewitness News investigation, we watched car after car being towed away from the Lockefield parking lot near IUPUI and Wishard.

"I walked across the street to Wishard, which is directly across the street, and by the time I came back, within 10-12 minutes, my car was gone," Darwin Edmonds said.

We watched his white Volkswagen Jetta being towed away. He immediately called Interstate Towing.

"Y'all on some sheisty [expletive] and I'm on my way down there, man," he said.

Edmonds had to pay $175, all thanks to a towing company lookout in the parking lot.

So we parked an Eyewitness News truck at the same location to see what happens. Nine minutes after getting out and taking the sidewalk into Taco Bell at 12:55 p.m., the tow truck showed up.

"Why is my car being towed? What's the problem," Eyewitness News Anchor Andrea Morehead asks the tow truck operator.

"You're illegally parked," he replied.

"How am I illegally parked?" Morehead asked. "I just went inside Taco Bell to get something to eat."

A postal employee who was standing in line in the restaurant confirmed he saw Morehead in Taco Bell.

"I sure did," he said.

He also said he sees the company towing people on a regular basis.

"Left and right," he said.

Another man, who was eating at a nearby restaurant, found out his car was towed at the same time.

The towing company lookout told Eyewitness News Morehead left the property, leading to the towing.

"She left the lot," he said.

As the news truck took a trip to the parking lot, Morehead went back to the same man in a blue GMC Envoy, the same truck that has been parked at the lot for the past three months. The man watches everyone's move, marking targets and calling the towing company.

After three taps on his window, he drives off without comment. Morehead called Interstate Towing, but got a similar response.

"I was eating at the Taco Bell. Can you tell me why my car was towed?" she asked.

"Um, because you left the property. So they called it in," said the towing company worker, named Leslie.

So how much was the bill?

"Until midnight tonight, it's $173. Then, after midnight, it goes up another $30 each time the clock strikes midnight. After the third day, they also add another $115 late fee," Leslie said.

With the restaurant receipt in hand, Morehead went to Interstate Towing to retrieve the car and tells the employee behind the window, "It was an improper tow, you should just be giving me my car back."

The employee tells her to pay $175 - in cash only - to get the truck. But when Morehead returns to hand over $200, she's told "No charge" and is given no reason for the change of heart.

Eyewitness News was inside the court proceedings during Graham's court case and spoke with Interstate Towing's general manager, Brian Meyer. Morehead tells Meyer customers claim his company made over $9,000 in less than three hours during the bullriding event.

"I'm asking you to respond to the allegation," she said.

"I just told you that I answered all my questions in the courtroom," Meyer replied.

"At what point do [the towed cars] become unauthorized?" she asked.

"You need to read the Indiana Code," Meyer said.

"Hopefully the city government will start regulating the towing business," said Graham, who lost his case to Interstate Towing.

The company lookout quit last week, because of the stress.

"It's piracy. Pure and simple piracy," Jones said.

City-County Councilor Ryan Vaughn plans to introduce a city ordinance next month to address the law and Eyewitness News is taking our findings to the Statehouse.

To learn how to protect yourself from unfair towing, click the "Towing Tips" video at the top of this page.