Controversy over tow release forms in the Metro-East

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by Chris Nagus

KMOV.com

Posted on September 22, 2011 at 9:15 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 23 at 9:35 AM

(News 4 Investigates) -- Your car's been towed and it's going to cost a lot of money to get it back.  But in the Metro East it will cost even more because some police departments charge for a costly tow release form.

It's a piece of paper that can cost up to 5 hundred dollars - and if you can't afford it you lose your car.
 
Glenda Bajoras ended up owing the Alorton Police Department $150 after her car was rear ended in August.
"I bet within 5 minutes of the ambulance showing up the tow truck was there, and it was Town & Country" said Bajoras.
Town and Country Towing is the tow company run by Harry "Dink" Halter.  On September 21st, Halter was charged with official misconduct in connection to his law enforcement position.  Bajoras says she battled with her insurance company, but eventually they paid Halter's tow bill.
But before she could get it out she had to pay a $150 fee at Alorton's police station.
Leading her to ask a basic question, “What am I paying for? .... cause we called a tow truck."

When News 4 asked if it was worth it, Bajoras replied " Hell no, I could have called a tow truck myself."
 
Bajoras says she was never ticketed, and didn't commit a crime - and doesn't feel like she should have to pay $150 for a piece of paper just so she can pay the tow lot a bunch of money.  This is not just happening in Alorton.  Cities like Alton, Belleville, East St. Louis and Fairview Heights charge up to $500 - usually reserved for individuals charged with felonies.
But in Centerville the tow release fees are much less, $25 for everyone no matter the case.
 
Assistant Deputy Chief Corey Allen says felonies, misdemeanors, and accidents are all treated the same. He says the department is not in the business of profiting off tow release fees. In 2010 they collected around $4,000 in fees; so far this year the number is about $5,000. The reason they don't charge more for the release form is economic.
 
“You find a lot of people that leave the cars at the tow yards instead of trying to come up with the 5 hundred for the release form plus the tow fee" said Allen.
 
He says he saw it first hand when he was the Police Chief in Alorton.  During his 3 months tenure he witnessed three people lose their cars because they couldn't afford the release form.  State records indicate Town & Country Towing applied for and received 22 salvage titles over the last year - meaning 22 vehicle owners lost their cars to the tow lot for various reasons.
 
News 4 talked to Alorton Mayor Randy McCallum on September 22nd.  He says the fee is a city ordinance that was charged because a police tow was ordered and that accident victims have the right to call their own tow company, which would not result in the fee. McCallum also says the city will consider alternative towing options in light of Harry Halter's arrest.

Chris Nagus is an investigative reporter at KMOV-TV. Contact Chris at cnagus@kmov.com
 

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