Lethal incident: Why would he say he paid?

Sharon Ragland stared in amazement: A Lethal Wrecker truck was backing straight into her friend's car. It was 4am on Sunday, March 30, and Ragland and her boyfriend, Anthony Barnett, were in the parking lot outside Club 216 on Water Street. Bryan Hall, the car's owner, was still inside the club.

According to both Ragland and Barnett, after hitting the back of Hall's car, the tow truck driver drove to the other side of the nightclub's parking lot– as if he were "getting ready to drive away"– but then Hall came out and they yelled at him that his car had been hit. Hall ran across the lot to the truck, which had stopped.

Hall, Barnett, and Ragland claim that the driver got out of his truck and declared, "I didn't do it!," to which Barnett pointed out that he and Ragland had seen the whole thing. At that point, the driver, Michael J. Easton, gave Hall his name and phone number, and said that he was insured by Geico. Hall claims Easton also asked him not to call the police, and promised to pay for the damage. He then drove off.

When Hall called Geico, however, the agent said that the company wasn't liable, since Easton had been driving a Lethal vehicle. Hall got an estimate for $371, but claims Easton said it was too high. The next one was for $600. At that point, Hall claims, Easton stopped responding to his calls. Hall began trying to reach Lethal's owner, George Morris, but he was "always out" when Hall called. Finally, he contacted me.

I spoke with Easton, who denied having hit Hall's car.

"My truck was parked 200 yards from his car," he said, and claimed he was only there because he'd gotten a service call to unlock a car.

According to Easton, even though he hadn't hit Hall's car, he paid him $75 on the spot, which is what he believed the damage was worth. Hall, Barnett, and Ragland all deny that Easton gave Hall any money. Easton also claims he later paid Hall the $371 from the first estimate. Finally, Easton denies that he asked Hall not to call the police: "I told him to call the cops," he told me.

"Why," I asked, "would you pay Hall almost $450 if you weren't responsible?" Because tow-truck drivers are always getting wrongly accused of hitting cars, he replied, adding, "Who needs the trouble?"

I then asked whether his boss expects Lethal employees to pay for damages they haven't caused, and he answered, "Yes– we pay for it, regardless of whether we hit it." However, when I asked Lethal boss Morris if that's his policy, he replied, "No, it's not." He also stated that Easton had not been on a Lethal call at the time of the incident.

The day after I spoke with Easton, he left a voice-mail message for Hall (which I've heard) that was so unsettling, Hall took the tape to the police. After identifying himself and calling Hall a vulgar name, he states that he's paid Hall and has "two witnesses." "If you don't like it," he says, "why don't you come down here?" The "here" is Lethal's office– not a place Hall felt inclined to drop in on right then.

Easton has cut a wide swath in local courts; he's been convicted twice of being drunk in public, first in Albemarle County General District Court (1994) and later in Charlottesville General District Court (1999). He's also been charged in one or the other venue for trespassing, damage to private property, assault and battery, disorderly conduct, driving on a suspended license, bad checks, and failure to appear. None of those charges, however, stuck.

Hall claims that in the end, Morris said he'd pay Hall his $371 if I'd kill the story. Obviously, I declined.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.


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