Theft victims get no breaks with towing charges

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – After a few days, Justin Brown had begun to face the likely reality : He would probably never see his custom 2004 Honda CVR 1000 motorcycle again.

“I made peace with it being gone,” said Brown, talking about the motorcycle he bought in 2008. Over the years, he spent time and money on the motorcycle including $2500 on a new “rattlesnake” colored paint job.

“It was my baby,” he said.

GOING IN-DEPTH // The cost of towing

City and county municipalities will usually set the price for a towing, but the criminal code sets forth maximums based on weight.

  • Light-duty tows – $250 per unit or maximum of $900. Light-duty means the tows of motor vehicles with a gross weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less
  • Medium-duty tows – $350 per unit or maximum of $900. Medium-duty means the tows of motor vehicles with a gross weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds, but less than 25,000 pounds
  • Heavy-duty tows – $450 per unit or maximum of $900. Heavy-duty means the tows of motor vehicles with a gross weight rating that exceeds 25,000 pounds.
  • Drop charge means the maximum that may be charged for the release of the vehicle before its removal from the property or parked location..

Source: The Texas Criminal Code

On July 16, Brown left his home at the Forest Hill Apartments to go to work. He normally chained his motorcycle when he left. But that day, he just forgot.

And that memory lapse gave opened the door for some opportunistic thieves.

“It was taken in broad daylight,” said Brown who filed a police report, but never really expected much to result.

But he was wrong.

A bust at a home in Kyle resulted in three engaging in organized criminal activity arrests and Justin’s motorcycle was one of two recovered from the site.

“It was definitely a relief and I was happy when I thought I was going to get it back,” said Brown.

“But I did not know what was entailed,” he said.

Between working two jobs, it took Brown a week before he went to Quantum Unlimited Towing where his motorcycle was held. It had been stripped down, repainted, and would need repairs just to get back in working condition.

After viewing it, he also realized he needed help loading it in a truck, so he left it to return nearly a week later.

That is when he was hit with the surprise. “She asked me if I was ready to pay,” said Brown. “And I said ‘uh, pay?’”

Brown was told the towing charges were $695 to get his motorcycle back. Money Brown was not expecting to pay and could not afford to pay at the time.

“I am already a victim in this situation. I think it is crazy to charge super-high prices.”

But Quantum Unlimited’s manager John Rodriguez says his prices are reasonable, clearly listed on his building’s signage, and well within Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation guidelines.

Rodriguez says it is a part of the job, even if others may view him as the bad guy.

“I understand his circumstance, but you have to understand our circumstance, too,” said Rodriguez. “We would not be in business if that was not a part of the business we do.”

The TDLR has guidelines for the state’s towing industry.

According to the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 18.23, a vehicle owner has full responsibility for the payment of all impound fees and any other fees related to the recovery.

In Brown’s case, Quantum Unlimited charged the city of Kyle’s standard $195 towing charge plus $50 for the mandated certified letter to the owner informing them of the recovery.

But Brown was also charged an additional $100 for the labor of a second person as well as $100 more for “waiting time.”

Rodriguez explained wait time was charged because his employees had to wait a couple of hours while Kyle Police conducted their investigation at the home where the motorcycles were found.

And since handling the motorcycles had to be done with care, the services of a second person were necessary.

“They were not in the right condition to where you could just drag them up on tow truck position,” said Rodriguez.

The time it took for Brown to ultimately take the motorcycle also cost him. A $20-a-day impound charge brought the total to the $695 amount.

Many insurance packages will cover towing costs in such situations, but Brown only had liability insurance on his motorcycle.

Unable and unwilling to pay such a high cost for a motorcycle already a shell of its former self, Brown let the bike sit in impound until Rodriguez gave him a deadline and an ultimatum.

Either pay for the bike or it will be auctioned to the highest bidder.

“It ended up being a whole month,” said Rodriguez. “Normally when you wait that long, it is a nearly $1,400 fee.”

But Rodriguez gave Brown what he considers a break given the circumstances and offered him the motorcycle for $700.

“We normally do not do that, other companies do not do that at all,” said Rodriguez.

Though reluctant, Brown could not bear to see his bike auctioned so he decided to for out the $700.

“I feel like I have been double-victimized,” said Brown. He estimates the bike will need between $1500-2000 in repairs.

“Every time I look at it, I find more stuff drilled out or broken.”

There is a possibility for prosecutors to pursue restitution during the criminal case which could then be returned to the victims of the crime.

Texas also has a Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund, but victims of property crime are not eligible to make claims.

Texas Towing Compliance is a website devoted to informing people about tow laws and helping file complaints against wrongful tow charges and towing scams.

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