Get Jesse Investigation: Incentives to tow

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by JESSE JONES / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on November 3, 2009 at 12:36 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 19 at 12:38 PM

"Well I came home one day, I looked out the window and it was gone!"

Bellevue's Thomas Joyce couldn't believe that someone had come to his apartment complex and taken his car.

"There was a sign on my door from Shannon Towing saying they had towed the car," he said.

But what we have discovered is that Lynnwood's Shannon Towing is providing incentives, some worth hundreds of dollars, if apartment managers call them to tow cars from their complexes.

Captain Jeff DeVere from the Washington State Patrol, the agency that regulates the industry, isn't happy about this at all.

Here's how it works: Have three cars towed by Shannon's and you'll earn $50 toward a spa treatment, coffee at Starbucks, or a steak dinner at The Outback. If you reach the platinum level of nine tows, you can get a $250 gift card to use on gas or at Costco or Walmart.

It's all in their flyer.

"If the person who's making that decision to tow the car is thinking about an incentive instead of the legal reasons for towing the car, then certainly it's a concern," Capt. DeVere said.

So I stopped by Shannon Towing, and it was a little spooky.

Jesse Jones: "I'm Jesse from KING 5."

Rosie Heinrich: "I know you."

I asked employee and apparent KING 5 viewer Rosie Heinrich about their program.

Jesse Jones: "Has it been successful?"

Rosie Heinrich: "Yeah, it's been pretty good. We've given out quite a few."

Rosie was so proud of the program she got us a clean copy of the flyer.

Jesse Jones: "Is there a little worry that this might cause somebody to call in a tow they really don't need?"

Rosie Heinrich: "You know? I've never thought about that. It's highly possible. I have never really thought about that. But it could happen."

If you're worried about abuse, check out part of an e-mail from an apartment manager, being courted by Shannon Towing, to its current towing provider. The manager writes: "Shannon's incentives are difficult to pass up, especially since they have several cars towed a month."

"It's like a bidding war," Capt. DeVere said. "I got this incentive sheet from this tow company. Can you do any better?"

OK, this all sounds bad, but is the practice illegal?

I handed our information over to the Washington State Patrol. They never saw this before until I gave it to them.

Jesse Jones: "You took this to a prosecutor and you're not sure you can even prosecute these cases?"

Capt. DeVere: "Under current law it's very gray."

We're told prosecutors are still studying the issue, but one thing is clear: Having a car towed illegally for financial gain can get managers in big trouble with the law. Now renters all over the area, like Thomas Joyce, wonder if their cars will get towed for a price.

"They're trying to make money at the expense of their customers," Joyce said. "That's ridiculous."

Jesse Jones: "Have you given this some thought that someone would abuse this?"

Rosie Heinrich: "Yeah, I think I'll put a note on it."

There may have been totally legit reasons why a car would be towed, but it's the incentives that concern the State Patrol.

If you believe your car was towed illegally, you can challenge your tow in court. Also, file a complaint with the State Patrol at www.wsp.wa.gov/traveler/docs/cvd/tow_comp.pdf.

While the legalities aren't very clear, the Washington State Patrol is asking the legislature to give this program a look when the session begins in January.
Shannon Towing tells us they checked out their program through their attorney before it was implemented. They claim they won't give any incentives for vehicles towed illegally.

If anyone does have an issue, give them a call.

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