Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Benton County Breakdown Blues

If you are planning on having car trouble, you might want to plan it somewhere beside Rogers. Kent Longley, owner of Marck Industries, called his own wrecker service when one of their recycling trucks broke down at Eighth and Walnut streets in Rogers back in December 2006. Their wrecker service was going to charge $200, steep enough, but the Rogers Police Department called Jim Erwin Wrecker Service from its rotating list, and Erwin charged $817.

Longley complained to Mayor Steve Womack about being ripped off, and Erwin Wrecker was removed from the Police Department's rotating list in Rogers. Marck Industries also sued Erwin to recover part of the exorbitant fee. Erwin then countersued Marck, seeking $156,000 in damages for lost business. Benton County Circuit Judge Xollie Duncan found liability against Marck, but she failed to assess any damages. Now Carol Gillespie, Erwin's lawyer, says they will sue the City of Rogers to get back on the Vulture List. Dismissing the numerous complaints that got Erwin Wrecker removed, she said, "It's the nature of the business for people to complain about towers."

It is the nature of the business for people to complain about towers that charge outrageous prices, often for towing ordered by someone else that prevents the vehicle owner from shopping for reasonable prices. Apparently wrecker operators can charge any price they want to tow your vehicle. In Springdale, they must charge "reasonable" fees based on comparisons with other towing companies, but that offers little protection for customers.

The Fayetteville Police Department has contracted with a single towing service at an established price. This is the best solution available to cities for official towing services. Towing operators who engage in nonconsentual towing from private lots can still charge whatever they want, and there is nothing the city or citizens can do about it. That's what our legislature calls free enterprise, the sacred ability to rip off the unwary who don't even realize they are being towed or what they are being charged.

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