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TOWING&RECOVERY November 2009 Reaching thousands of industry professionals monthly FOOTNOTES ® www.trfootnotes.com Dangerous, Deadly, Bizarre Part II Towers should be aware of the worst that can happen By Allan T. Duffin & Cyndi Kight Last month, our October issue fea- tured part one of our two-part look at towers in danger — recovery jobs com- plicated by potentially deadly cir- cumstances, repo and impound tows interrupted by furious vehicle own- ers, and on-scene events that are just plain bizarre. Some stories are extreme and shock- ing, others simply weird, but each pro- vide insight into what towers can expe- rience on the job — and, just maybe, some ideas on how to respond to simi- lar situations. Here in Part II are more incidents, with some ways that towers can deal with similar circumstances — or, if the situation requires it, how to fight back. Caution DANGER AHEAD Volume 20, Number 7 ❘ $3.95 A Mitchell’s Towing light-duty beauty Narrow Escape Any tower who’s been on the job for awhile has enough stories to fill a book. Mitchell Martin, owner of Mitch- ell’s Towing in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, has had his share of run-ins with angry customers. “I have had dirty diapers thrown at my head, I was jumped and beaten up by two guys in an alley, and my back win- dow has been blown out during a repo,” he said. Mix surprise, anger, and frustration during a recovery operation, and some- times towers barely escape with their lives. Late on a Friday night last Febru- “Your ability to make a quick decision is a must” ary, police in Portland, OR, pulled over a driver and charged him with a DUI. His wife, who was also apparently drunk, arrived on scene a short while later, looked around, then departed. The tow truck arrived to take away the husband’s vehicle, so the police officer on-scene decided to chase after the wife on a suspected DUI. While the cop was out searching for her, the wife came back and ap- proached the tower, telling him that if he took away her husband’s car she would go get a weapon. Then she went home, later returning with “what ap- peared to be a gun,” according to local TV station KGW. At that point the tower decided that his personal safety was more impor- tant than getting killed over a simple impound job. He drove away, leaving behind the car he was supposed to take away. Later that day the police vis- ited the wife at her home, but she refused to come out. Forty-five min- utes later, she finally gave herself up. Like her husband, she was charged with a DUI. Auto Attack Sometimes towers have to defend themselves with words, their fists or, in extreme cases, a weapon. When a tower fired a gun at a vehicle owner near a nightclub in January 2006, was it a case of self-defense — or attempt- ed murder? Donald Montanez, owner of Private Property Commercial Impound in Tampa, FL, was supervising multiple impound tows outside of the Sugar Shack Club. One vehicle owner, told that Montanez’s employees had moved See DANGEROUS,DEADLY,BIZARRE, page 4 © 2009 Dominion Enterprises. All Rights Reserved. IN THE COLD TOWING pg 10 Towing&Recovery Footnotes® 10 Bokum Rd. Essex, CT 06426 PRST STD MAIL U.S.POSTAGE PAID Hanover,PA PERMIT 117
Bizarre & Deadly
Last month, our October issue featured part one of our two-part look at towers in danger — recovery jobs complicated by potentially deadly circumstances, repo and impound tows interrupted by furious vehicle owners, and on-scene events that are just plain bizarre.<br /> <br /> Some stories are extreme and shocking, others simply weird, but each provide insight into what towers can experience on the job — and, just maybe, some ideas on how to respond to similar situations.<br /> <br /> Here in Part II are more incidents, with some ways that towers can deal with similar circumstances — or, if the situation requires it, how to fight back.<br /> <br /> Narrow Escape<br /> <br /> The tow truck arrived to take away the husband’s vehicle, so the police officer on-scene decided to chase after the wife on a suspected DUI.<br /> <br /> While the cop was out searching for her, the wife came back and approached the tower, telling him that if he took away her husband’s car she would go get a weapon. Then she went home, later returning with “what appeared to be a gun,” according to local TV station KGW.<br /> <br /> At that point the tower decided that his personal safety was more important than getting killed over a simple impound job. He drove away, leaving behind the car he was supposed to take away. Later that day the police visited the wife at her home, but she refused to come out. Forty-five minutes later, she finally gave herself up.<br /> <br /> Like her husband, she was charged with a DUI.<br /> <br /> Auto Attack<br /> <br /> Sometimes towers have to defend themselves with words, their fists or, in extreme cases, a weapon. When a tower fired a gun at a vehicle owner near a nightclub in January 2006, was it a case of self-defense — or attempted murder?<br /> <br /> Donald Montanez, owner of Private Property Commercial Impound in Tampa, FL, was supervising multiple impound tows outside of the Sugar Shack Club. One vehicle owner, told that Montanez’s employees had movedHis car to a staging area, went with two brothers and a friend to get his car back.<br /> <br /> At the staging lot, the vehicle owner retrieved in his car and drove directly toward Montanez. Fearing for his life, Montanez pulled out a gun and shot the vehicle owner. According to the Tampa Bay Times, “Defense attorney Jeffrey G. Brown argued that Montanez had a fraction of a second to act and fired a 40-caliber pistol to try to disable the vehicle as [the driver] drove at an accelerated speed toward Montanez and an employee.” Montanez’s legal team tried to get the murder charge dismissed, whileThe prosecutor held that Montanez and his employees were towing cars that turned out to be legally parked.<br /> <br /> But after a four-day hearing in May, a circuit judge ruled that Montanez would stand trial for murder.<br /> <br /> The St. Petersburg Times noted that Judge Robert Foster wasn't convinced that Montanez fired his weapon in selfdefense.<br /> <br /> In his ruling, Foster held that when Montanez confronted the vehicle owner, his brothers, and a friend, "these individuals had no duty to stop as they were hearing the commands of a citizen, not a law enforcement officer... It is inherently dangerous to pull a firearm and is best left to well-trained individuals who have a duty to serve and protect."<br /> <br /> See www.tampabay.com/news/co urts/criminal/article1002109.ece<br /> <br /> Runaway Wreckers<br /> <br /> Inexperienced or inattentive towers can create a lot of damage all by themselves.<br /> <br /> In March 2009 the driver of a Ford F550 flatbed accidentally sideswiped a sedan in the town of Brookfield,<br /> <br /> IL. As the sedan crashed into a nearby van, the tow truck driver lost control of his wrecker and smashed through the windows of Slager’s, a small tavern nearby. “The impact sent bricks, car parts, window frames, tables, chairs, and glass flying across the front of the bar,” reported the Riverside Brookfield Landmark.Fortunately everyone involved — including the drivers of the tow truckAnd the sedan — survived the ordeal with only minor injuries. “One of the paramedics told me to buy a lottery ticket,” said a surprised man who was seated inside the pub during the incident.<br /> <br /> “I sort of heard a swishing sound and thought, ‘What is that?’ Then I went flying and landed on the floor sitting up. I didn’t know if a bomb went off or it was a gas explosion.” The tow truck driver, employed by a local company for barely two months, was fired. His truck was totaled in the incident, and the case is currently under review.<br /> <br /> A similar incident in Rome, GA, occurred in the opposite way: This time a vehicle driver hit a tow truck, sending the wrecker speeding into the Magic Wand Car Wash nearby.<br /> <br /> After banging up some equipment at the car wash, the tow truck crossed oncoming traffic lanes, smacked a power pole, and drove through the front wall of the World Hi Fi Home Store. Fortunately, because the accident happened early in the morning, no one inside the store was injured.<br /> <br /> In Detroit Lakes, MN, a runaway tow truck cost one tower a limb. Michael Smith, owner of Lakes County Towing, underwent several surgeries after being injured as he helped prepare a county disaster drill in September<br /> <br /> 2008. A school bus posing as an overturned camper rolled down an embankment and smashed into Smith’s empty tow truck. As his truck slid down the hill, Smith jumped into the cab in an attempt to stop his truck. But he made it only halfway into the cab.<br /> <br /> The truck slid past a tree, slamming the door on Smith, breaking his pelvis and damaging his leg. His leg was later amputated above the knee.<br /> <br /> “He is with us and for that I am praying every moment,” his wife wrote in the Park Rapids Enterprise.<br /> <br /> “There have been steps forward and just as many backwards but Mike is sustaining.”<br /> <br /> Fighting Back<br /> <br /> While freak accidents and acts of nature are out of the tower’s control, incidents involving angry customers can, in many cases, be solved peacefully — or prevented altogether. But if a tower inadvertently finds himself or herself in the middle of an altercation with a customer, there are several ways to fight back.<br /> <br /> Jesse DeGraeve, owner of Anytime Towing in Traverse City, MI, recalls some of the ways that he and his employees have dealt with these kinds of sticky situations: “Usually from what I have seen, people are the most agitated when they come to pick their car up,” he said. “When we first opened up, I would bend over backwards to come in after hours to let people into a car or to pick up a car. After dealing with a few shady characters and having to call the police once, we ended that.”<br /> <br /> Now DeGraeve only lets people pick up cars during office hours. “This way there is more than one person around,” he explained. “Irate customers are much less likely to cause problems with more than one person there.” When on-scene, Mitchell Martin sometimes faces angry vehicle owners who approach him in the middle of an impound or repo job. If Martin is inside his truck, rolling away with the vehicle, and someone comes running up alongside him, Martin usually locks the doors and rolls the passenger window down. Martin then points to the passenger window. “For whatever reason it always works,” he said.<br /> <br /> “They go to that side and then they’re not directly in my space or within striking distance.” On the other hand, if Martin is outside his truck and busy hooking up a vehicle, he takes a different approach.<br /> <br /> “I find that most people who catch you in the act are aggressive at first,” he said, recommending that towers keep calm and avoid raising their voices or “flexing their chests.” Remember, said Martin, “You’re the professional.<br /> <br /> No amount of money is worth going home to your family injured.” When dealing with possible altercations, DeGraeve notes that he’s been lucky. “We haven’t had any problems where we have had to fight physically with any customers or where any customers have attacked a driver,” he said.<br /> <br /> “But I tell our drivers that if they have a strange feeling about a call or if something doesn’t feel right, then pass on the call.” If his driver is already at the call and something happens, De- Graeve instructs his employees to call the police first, then do whatever they need to do to get to a safe spot.<br /> <br /> Handling Anger<br /> <br /> Martin provides a few tips on how to deal with an angry vehicle owner and keep that anger from bubbling over into a fistfight — or worse. First, explain why the vehicle is being towed.<br /> <br /> “Make sure you have the most information possible before arriving,” urges Martin. “You never want to be caught and not know why you’re doing the job.” Hooking up the vehicle as soon as possible can give the tower an advantage if the vehicle owner seems ready to go overboard. “Get the vehicle lifted in the air,” said Martin. “People are easier to talk to when they see their prized possession — whether it’s a Pinto or an Aston Martin — in the air.” Easy, fast, and widely accepted multiple methods of payment can also speed the process along.<br /> <br /> Sometimes, to be extra safe, towers carry their own weapons. “Michigan is a state where concealed weapons permits are available,” said DeGraeve, noting that a lot of the tow truck drivers in his town have these types of permits.<br /> <br /> But is it the best way to keep yourself from getting hurt?<br /> <br /> Martin is concerned that people who carry a weapon might be more likely to use it. “I don’t think anythingMore than pepper or bear spray is needed,” he said. “Your intentions are never to fight. If there are a lot of people at the scene, try to pull the owner aside. Try making it sound like a deal — $40 now but $105 later at the yard.” Calm, sensible negotiation with an irate customer might mean the difference between a quick tow and suffering an injury on the job.<br /> <br /> For towing companies that want to protect themselves financially against physical harm, insurance is available.<br /> <br /> “One of the coverages important to the industry pays a benefit in the event of felonious assault,” said Ralph Weber, founder of Route Three Life Health Disability, Inc., a Paso Robles, Cabased firm that provides insurance and financial services to the towing industry.<br /> <br /> Fortunately there have been few if any payouts for such coverage. “To be honest, that I have not heard of any specific incidences of that happening,” said Weber.<br /> <br /> When it comes to dealing with angry vehicle owners, Martin picks his battles carefully: “Nobody really wants to fight,” he said. “Most people you can talk down. I’m not a big guy so I use what God gave me.” His advice? “Treat them with respect, and you will be respected. Your ability to make a quick decision is a must,” he adds. “Every situation is different and requires a calm individual.” The stories in this article were culled from various news sources and from Footnotes’ own TowBlog, maintained by associate editor Cyndi Kight at www.thetowblog.com. Our deepest condolences to the families of the towers who have been injured or lost in the line of duty.