COLLEGE STATION, Tex. (KBTX)- A local towing company is under fire for what customers are calling unethical and illegal business practices, but the owners of the wrecker service say the complaints are nothing more than a smear campaign.
Several Northgate business owners and patrons have contacted KBTX in recent months to say their vehicles have been hauled from the Coyote Lot even after they've paid for parking.
The lot is located at Church and First Street and charges $5.00 for parking.
Coyote Lot is owned by the same people who own the Dixie Chicken, and parking there is enforced by Roadrunners Towing & Recovery.
Customers must drop cash into a money box that's monitored by several cameras and spotters who watch from a distance.
The system is a flawed one, according to those who shared their experiences with News 3's Rusty Surette.
Jessica De La Cruz, the owner of 4.0 Cuts, says her car has been towed twice. It was once returned after Roadrunners realized it made a mistake.
"They said they were sorry, and they made a mistake because their cameras were glitching at the time," said De La Cruz.
Tom Chavers and Sandra Portzer, the owners of Roadrunners, confirmed this on Sunday in a telephone conversation with KBTX and agreed to share their side of the story in an on-camera interview on Monday.
They later declined the interview, saying our story was one-sided, biased, and said their attorney advised them not to speak with us due to pending litigation involving one or more of its customers.
De La Cruz worries about the impact the tows are having on her business.
"They're also towing my staff and my customers," she said. Other nearby business owners and managers echo her concerns.
Tristan Dudely manages a bar in Northgate and claims, not only was he towed after paying the fee, but the tow truck driver damaged the
underside of his vehicle.
"I've had three different mechanics tell me this kind of damage happens when the car is dropped," said Dudley.
An average tow from Coyote Lot can cost $300. Dudley says in the end, the tow and repairs will cost him nearly 8 times that amount.
In a statement to KBTX, the owners of the Coyote Lot called the payment system "simple and effective" but it's one of -- if not the last -- parking lot in Northgate to use a money drop box.
Others use electronic machines that accept debit and credit cards.
Several of the people KBTX spoke with for this story say they have filed, or plan to file a complaint with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation -- the state agency that regulates and monitors towing services.
In 2016, Roadrunners was issued a penalty and fine of $1,450 by TDLR for violations unrelated to its towing practices.
The company's profile on the Better Business Bureau website shows 4 complaints have been filed against the towing company, but maintains an A- rating.
KBTX asked each Brazos County Justice of the Peace for a list of how many tow hearings have been requested in 2018 for cases involving Roadrunners.
No hearings logged this year.
Two hearings were requested. It wasn't made clear who the Judge ruled in favor of in these cases.
8 complaints filed. Two were ruled in favor of the vehicle owner. Two were ruled in favor of Roadrunners. Three were dismissed. One case is still pending.
What Are Your Rights?
When a tow truck tries to tow your car or after your car has been towed, you have certain rights as the car owner under the law.
If you return to your car and it is being hooked-up to a tow truck but IT IS NOT FULLY hooked up and ready for towing, you can keep your car WITHOUT paying a CHARGE. You do not need to prove ownership of the car in this instance.
If you return to your car and IT IS FULLY HOOKED UP, READY FOR TOWING, BUT HAS NOT LEFT THE PARKING LOT, you may keep your car but YOU MUST PAY A DROP FEE. You do not need to prove ownership of the car in this instance either.
If your car has been towed from a parking lot, you can find your car by calling the phone number on the no parking sign. You can recover your car from the vehicle storage facility (VSF) after documenting that you are the owner (or allowed user) and paying the towing and storage fees.
You may request a TOW HEARING at any Justice of the Peace Court in the county where your car was towed if you believe your car was wrongfully towed, stored or booted; or if you were charged more than the allowed fee.
You must request a tow hearing from the court within 14 days of the tow.
HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT
Consumers may file a complaint on-line through the TDLR website regarding a tow company, tow operator, car storage facility or their employees, or a booting company or their employees.
Filing a complaint with TDLR is not a substitute for requesting a tow hearing; however, you may do both.
Full statement from Dixie Chicken, Inc.
Dixie Chicken, Inc., is not in the towing business and we are generally not involved with the disputes between patrons and the towing company. For years, the Coyote parking lot has used a very simple and effective payment system that is a great value for parking patrons. We are pleased that we are able to provide affordable parking in the Northgate District.
On rare occasions, some patrons fail to read the signage. In some cases, persons fail to pay for the parking and are subject to towing just like other parking lots in our community, and across Texas.
The corporation that owns the parking lot hired an independent contractor as the towing operator. While we often work with patrons with legitimate complaints, we have found through the years that the majority of the complaints lack merit and the towing was lawful.