The Investigators: MORE Tow trouble - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

The Investigators: MORE Tow trouble

By Andy Wise - bio | email

MEMPHIS (WMC TV) - $50.

The guy will more than make up for that on his next tow.

But that's the fine wrecker Marcus White has paid after the Action News 5 Investigators captured him on hidden camera, hauling a woman's 2001 Jaguar to a Memphis side-street and breaking into it.

"There needs to be some sort of retribution or penalty that's a little bit more compelling," said Vince Higgins, permits and towing coordinator for the city of Memphis.

Higgins said several wrecker services are hauling "non-consent pulls" (vehicles parked illegally on private lots) to back-lots and side-streets in violation of the city's destination requirement ordinance.

"Once hooking up to the vehicle and initiating the tow, by ordinance, (the wrecker) is supposed to go directly to his point of destination, which is his wrecker lot," he said.

10 AM, April 12, the Action News 5 Investigators followed Marcus White of White's Wrecker Service, 1233 N. McLean (BBB report:  http://www.bbb.org/memphis/business-reviews/towing-automotive/griffin-towing-and-recovery-in-memphis-tn-44043045), as he picked up the Jaguar belonging to Barbara Garrett of Frayser. Garrett had illegally parked it on the private lot of a bonding company near the intersection of Poplar Ave. and Danny Thomas Blvd.

White, a city-permitted wrecker, pulled his wheel-lift with Garrett's Jaguar over on High St., a violation of the city's destination requirement.

Seconds later, he slipped a device through the driver's side door, unlocked it and opened it, setting off the car alarm.

"It is certainly against our ordinance for them to enter the vehicle without the permission of the owner when it's a 'non-consent' pull," Higgins said as he reviewed our footage.

After the alarm stopped, White transported Garrett's vehicle to a gas station off Highway 51 in Frayser.

"That's another violation (of the destination requirement)," said Higgins.

On camera, White acted like he was caught red-handed when Action News 5 confronted him.

"Get out of my face, man," White said. "I ain't getting on no camera, man."

He tried to explain why he breached Garrett's vehicle in a phone conversation nearly two months later.

"It's a D.O.T. safety hazard for us to haul a car with the emergency brake on and the wheels cut," he explained. "I've got to secure that vehicle by any means necessary."

But he had already towed Garrett's car two city blocks before he pulled it over on High St. to "secure the vehicle." 

White didn't have an explanation for that.

"Why would he do that?" asked Garrett when we showed her our footage after she paid White a $50 towing fee to get the Jaguar back.

She added that she knew White because he had towed her son's vehicle once. "I don't want to press charges," she said. "Nothing came up missing, you know."

"Had that victim been willing to prosecute, there would have been criminal charges," added Higgins.

Valuables are the only thing White could possibly have been looking for, according to Rena McDonald. She owns and operates Davenport Towing, 190 Eastman Rd, the oldest and longest-licensed towing service in Tennessee. It is also a Better Business Bureau-accredited wrecker with an A+ rating.

"There is no other reason to be doing that," said McDonald when we asked if there is a professional explanation for White to breach Garrett's vehicle. "He had no reason to go into the car."

White's towing service isn't the only one violating the city's destination requirement. 

The Action News 5 Investigators documented several permitted wrecking services picking up vehicles illegally parked on the private lots of gas stations and bonding companies near Poplar Ave. and Danny Thomas Blvd.

Instead of delivering the vehicles to their towing lots, they transported them to downtown side-streets, including Mosby Ave., Exchange Ave. and High St.

One unidentified wrecker stationed a look-out on Exchange Ave. With a cell phone pressed to his ear, he inspected each of the vehicles left on the street, looking inside the windows.

July 19, Derrick Griffin of Griffin Towing, 3709 Lamar Ave. (BBB report:  http://www.bbb.org/memphis/business-reviews/towing-automotive/griffin-towing-and-recovery-in-memphis-tn-44043045), pleaded guilty in Memphis City Court to violating the city's destination requirement.

His penalty:  a $50 fine.

"He took the cars to his lot, and he doesn't understand the charges," said Michael Long, Griffin's attorney. "But he doesn't want to go through the hassle of a trial."

"They take the fine, they walk away, and they keep doing it," quipped Higgins. "The tow truck can charge up to $125 for that type of pull, so a $50 fine is not much of a deterrent."

$50 is the maximum fine a city judge can levy on a wrecker for violating the city's destination requirement. The penalty is set by state law, so it can only be amended by an act of the Tennessee General Assembly.

The Action News 5 Investigators e-mailed six West Tennessee senators and representatives:  

Sen. Beverly Marrero of Memphis (http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/members/s30.html)

Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis (http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/members/s28.html)

Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown (http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/members/s31.html)

Rep. Jim Coley of Bartlett (http://www.capitol.tn.gov/house/members/h97.html)

Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis (http://www.capitol.tn.gov/house/members/h87.html)

Rep. Barrett Rich of Somerville (http://www.capitol.tn.gov/house/members/h94.html)

Each is a member of one the legislature's judiciary committees, where bills regarding criminal and civil penalties originate.

Our e-mail attempted to gauge their interest in increasing the maximum penalty for violating the city's destination requirement ordinance. Higgins indicated tougher penalties might discourage wrecker services from towing their pulls to hidden side-streets.

Not one of the legislators answered our e-mail. 

White's Wrecker Service is the only one our cameras caught breaking into one of its pulls. Reviewing our video, the Action News 5 Investigators never saw White take anything from Garrett's Jaguar.

Higgins originally said White was at risk of losing his wrecker permit, but now, he will keep it since he paid the fine.

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