City proposes changes to towing rules

Some towing companies have been accused of "unfair" practices.
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INDIANAPOLIS - An exclusive 13 Investigates story got immediate action at the City-County Building.

Eyewitness News has learned the mayor is going after unfair towing companies that may be preying on unsuspecting drivers. In our investigation, we showed how trucks swoop in and, in a matter of minutes, tow cars from parking lots all over the city.

Viewer complaints prompted the three-month investigation into some local towing companies taking vehicles thanks to a loophole in state law. Instead of waiting 24 hours to tow, they trucks are removing them immediately.

A company lookout sits for hours, marking targets and calling for the tow. That included an Eyewitness News vehicle parked at a Taco Bell restaurant near downtown.

"It was an improper tow, you should just be giving me my car back," Eyewitness News Anchor Andrea Morehead told a worker at Interstate Towing.

Morehead got the news truck back without having to pay the $175 fee. But some viewers weren't as lucky.

"It was a large amount of people that pretty much got duped and ripped out of a lot of money," said Coy Graham. "I had copies of the police report that stated everything they saw at the parking lot."

Graham sued Interstate Towing, saying he parked in a private lot - where some drivers even paid - only to return to more than 50 cars and trucks missing.

Eyewitness News asked Interstate Towing's general manager, Brian Meyer, when a car becomes unauthorized.

"You need to read the Indiana Code," he replied.

The court in Graham's case sided with Interstate Towing. He lost his $182.

"Really try to get some type of ethics into the towing industry, as far as they treat people and shady practices," he said.

James Edsall, owner of Last Chance Wrecker, explained why he believes some towing companies act in unfair ways toward car owners.

"There's no regulation regarding pricing, why some companies are choosing to take advantage of consumers. Because they can is the only answer," Edsall said. "I want to put my head down at night and know that I was fair in what I've done."

He says part of the problem is that, unlike his employees who get paid hourly, some towing companies pay their workers on commission, which breeds greed.

"We're either $75 or $95 for the tow," Edsall said.

That's the same fee for a public tow called in by police and at private parking lots, like McDonald's in Broad Ripple.

"If they're using us, we require them to call in," Edsall said.

The businesses themselves report an unauthorized vehicle, not a towing company lookout.

"There's cameras in the cab, facing forward, facing rear," he said, pointing out added protection for his drivers and car owners. "That one's also miked, as well."

Now, the city's proposed ordinance against predatory towing includes licensing of towing operators, no kick-back provisions, towing lots cannot be outside the county, fixed prices and towing companies must be transparent about their fees.

Edsall believes government oversight is long overdue.

"Some sort of uniform pricing, or at least a cap. Just state that you cannot charge more than 'x'," he said. "If 'x' is more than what we're currently charging, we're not gonna change our rates. That's not who we are or how we operate."

Eyewitness News had meetings scheduled Monday with Mayor Greg Ballard and Councilor Ryan Vaughn, but both meetings were postponed.