THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- Towing tussle: Oxford Hill incident gets ugly

As I have frequently observed, consumer disputes often turn emotional, exacerbating whatever issue caused the dispute to begin with. Throw the added accelerant of race on that conflagration, and you can easily end up with an explosion.

On the evening of September 22, Collier's Towing snagged 18-year old Will Thompson's illegally parked truck from the parking lot of Oxford Hill apartments in Charlottesville. There were several Collier's trucks operating in the lot at the time.

Thompson, who saw his truck being towed, was understandably upset over the $95 fee. At first, the Collier's driver agreed to release the truck then and there for a reduced price of $65, which Thompson's girlfriend, Michele Porter, agreed to pay. But Collier's inexplicably drove off with the vehicle.

The argument continued with a Collier's driver still at the lot as Porter tried to calm her boyfriend down.

At that point, however, events took an ugly turn. Thompson and Porter allege the driver said to Thompson, "At least I'm not married to a ni**er," referring to Porter, who is African American.

Both Porter and Thompson are freshmen at Shepherd University in West Virginia.

Angered, the couple retreated to the apartment of their friend, former UVA football player Keenan Carter, who came out to talk to the drivers. They denied using a racial epithet, but Porter challenged them, adding, "You can't even call me a ni**er. I'm half white. I'm white just like you."

"It don't matter," she alleges a driver responded. "It's just as bad."

Just as a Charlottesville police officer arrived, Thompson took a swing at the driver resulting in Thompson's arrest on charges of assault. The complaining witness is Donald Tate, the Collier's driver. The case is pending.

Later that evening when Thompson's father, Brett Thompson, went to Collier to retrieve his son's car, he says he paid the $95 and asked to speak to the manager or owner.

"They just laughed in my face," he says.

Management Services Corp. owns Oxford Hill, and MSC senior vice president Rhonda Puryear told me that MSC did follow up on the incident with Collier's, but that there were "two completely different stories" of what happened that evening. Noting Thompson's arrest and claiming that MSC has had no trouble with Collier's in the past, she said that MSC would take no action beyond noting the matter.

A woman who described herself as a dispatcher at the towing company, but who refused to give her name, forcefully denied the allegations against Tate. "Donald Tate has a black wife," she said. "He is not prejudiced."

The dispatcher admitted, however, that there was a racial component to the argument that evening, explaining that, "Donald was trying to tell him [Thompson] that he wasn't prejudiced, that he has a black wife."

Explanations aside, the dispatcher had strong words for this reporter. "Before you write a story, you better make sure you have the facts right," she said. "You better make sure you don't slander us because I will come after you."

Carter could not be reached for comment regarding what he witnessed.

So how to unravel all this?

As for what happened that evening in the Oxford Hill lot, it is clearly a "he said/she said" situation. While all parties admit there was a racial component to the argument, it is impossible to tell what actually transpired.

Given that, I can appreciate MSC's position. In the absence of a record of complaints about Collier's, there is little more that can be expected of the company at this point. 

Now, however, there is a complaint on record.

I can also understand Collier's standing by its driver, but if Brett Thompson's description of a Collier's employee laughing in his face is accurate (I didn't get the opportunity to ask the dispatcher before she dispatched me!), that seems unprofessional.

Every business has an obligation to fairly hear, evaluate, and respond to people in the community with whom they come into contact– even tow-truck operators who have to deal frequently with angry people. Over time, a failure to do so could catch up with a firm in terms of declining business and increasing hassles, including sometimes unwanted publicity.



It is amazing to me the the world goes crazy over "predatory" lenders but C-ville allows these mafioso thugs to do predatory towing without so much as a peep. It took them years to deal with Lethal and that was only after they nearly killed somebody.

Refuse to rent or do business from anywhere that has a colliers sign. walk right into the business and tell them that you won't do business with them so long as they allow these people to sit and wait for someone to make a mistake. I wonder if the businesses are getting kickbacks?????

If the apartment complexes were required to have adequate parking you would cut the impounds in half. They should also make the tow comapny send in a copy of every impounded ticket to an administarator at city hall who could add them up and let the irs know how much cash they are taking in. Citezens could then send their copy in for cross reference and if they didn't report every dollar, then the IRS could IMPOUND THEM.

They could also require private lots to post LARGE signs visible from all angles ABOVE the height of the average SUV.

If the city Council wants to solve this they can do it easily.

Until then don't use ANY tow comapany that does impounds.

For too many years, towing companies in C-ville have had their way with with people who have parked in a space that might not have been the best choice. Some of these companies stalk "their" lots for someone to park, if only to "just run in" and when they return 10 minutes later, the car is gone. Is this neighborly? I think not.

I somewhat agree with the post by victim too long but there is no way to track their receipts. This cash business is a great way to pocket a lot of cash. What needs to happen is they must be forced to accept ATM/Credit cards and have a well lit lot. They should not have an "open check book" to the public and drive around looking for their next victim. My feeling is that they must be dispatched by the property they serve,(to render assistance; be of use; help).

I will always look for the towing sign now. If it says Collier's, I will let the business know that I will not be doing business there as long as that sign is posted.

If this Collier is what Thompson described as being prejudiced in any manner, then Thompson has my full support. Words like that cannot be tolerated by anybody!

All they need to do is put a 2.00 tax on every tow, use that money to keep tabs on the tow companies AND nail them for tax evasion if they hide even ONE ticket.

Do the math... these tow companys get 100 dollars per impound, they probably do 10 a night year round. that 365,000 dollars. if they are reporting only half (not accusing Colliers) then at a 40% tax bracket the taxpayers are losing over 50k a year in lost revenue.....

This is worh looking into.

I agree, there is way too much cash with all the towing companies. The last thing we need are more laws and more taxes. That won't fix the problem with towing companies. If they are to operate in the city then a requirement needs to be ATM/credit. That puts a big dent in a cash business.

How they treat people when they snag a vehicle is the issue. Being able to go out as a posse to one of their chosen lots of the day (or hour) is another issue. If this is what it takes to get people to react to the towing companies of C-ville, especially Collier's, it was a sad day for Ms. Porter and Mr. Thompson. They are the victims here!

I went to court with Michelle and Will to see what would become of this. Maybe we should call it a circus instead. So many holes in the "stories" three drivers told who had a difficult time commanding the English language. It wasn't until I heard the testimony of the assaulted driver, Donald Tate, Jr. that I found out the assault was being struck by a flip-flop that "left a red mark", on his shoulder.

The entire time Will and Michelle gave their testimony Judge Downer Jr. never looked at them, he always looked down so he wouldn't have to make eye contact when he knew before the case was heard that he would take up for the poor tow truck drivers. Every one of the drivers, especially Tate, looked down and away as they spoke. Anyone who knows about body language will tell you looking away and down is a sure sign of lying!

The prosecution was much more prepared then Will's court appointed attorney who let so many good questions go without asking.

The whole thing could have been avoided if the drive who "hooked" Will's truck put it down and let them pay. The other drivers didn't have to get into a shouting match with Will and call Michelle such horrible names. These are the people the Judge calls professional drivers. For those who wonder if this really happened... I saw her that night, clearly upset, tearful and I quote her, "No one has ever talked to me like that in my entire life".

There was more than one incident in the lot that night, the other guy just never threw a flip-flop! On September 22nd, Colliers appeared on that Oxford Hill lot with five tow trucks. You do the math!

Hey victim, if its that great what are you doing typing, get out there and start a towing business.

BTW a $365K gross revenue is not taxed at 40%, net profits are taxed.

If they make $365K it takes 5 trucks and properly zoned land, insurance, fuel, drivers, etc. They are not flying Gulfstream jets around between tows.

Bottom line, just don't leave your car where its not allowed. Have some sense.

If towing wasn't aggressively enforced, residents that pay rent wouldn't have a spot to park even though they pay for it.

It could be to NY where parking is really scarce, they have "Minutemen" tow trucks.

The tow companies do inform City Hall of each tow through the City Hall's Police Department. (That way if you call in your vehicle stolen the police can direct you to the tow company.) They take cash only because of how many people would probably dispute the credit car payment to VISA and then they would have to provide more paperwork that will then increase the cost of towing. Cash is king and you can't require that they take anything else.

I see towing as necessary. If I were to park in your front yard in the grass at your house what would you do? Towing is a civilized way of removing the vehicle. Personally if someone parked a vehicle on my property who had no business too, I would strip the vehicle and sell the parts and donate all proceeds to schools so maybe this problem will dimish in the future.

Your obviously a tower. Cash is not KING. Many jurisdictions REQIRE that they take local checks and credit cards in order to get a license. They also require that all impounds be called in before it occurs, that towers are required to drop the car for a reduced fee if the owner shows up during the impound and that all drivers have a backgound check that do impounds due to theft from vehicles. The towers in C-ville have it easy and if they keep it up they will get screwed like they deserve. It is only a matter of time before the governemt stops worrying about planting grass on rooftops and starts doing the job they were elected to do.

People should refuse to patronize any business that these cretins do impounds for. What a lot of people do not know is that these towers pay KICKBACKS to these companies and it has little to do with lot managment.