Snow tow: How neighborly was that?

Remember February? Tons of snow, freezing cold temperatures, and, if you lived on a hill, little or no chance you'd be able to drive up it. That's what happened to J.P. James, who lives on a hilly street off High Street, during one of the big storms. I got the blow-by-blow in an impassioned letter James wrote me– or, more precisely, I got his version of the blow-by-blow.

"We parked our car (in the snow emergency during the blizzard)," he writes, "at the bottom of our hill in our 'neighbor's' parking lot– Charlottesville Glass & Mirror. We could not get up our street with the city piling up snow and the stranded and stuck cars in the way. We walked two blocks home. The next day, the car was gone!

"Our 'neighbor' saw fit to have our car towed away! When we went into the business, the grumpy and hostile owner told us we had parked on 'private property.' He put a note on the car and had it towed! Small-town neighborliness at its 'best'?! What happened to the post-9/11 spirit of pulling together in crises, big and small? What in the world was this owner thinking– towing us away in a blizzard? Does it take much imagination to see that we parked because we had nowhere to go?"

The Jameses had to pay $85 to get their car back from Lethal Wrecker ("and had to walk in the post-blizzard mess to get it"). "How about humiliating this 'private property' nut into paying one-half of the towing? Maybe by initiating a boycott? People in 'glass houses' shouldn't throw stones– or have cars towed!"

Next, we'll hear Dwight Corle's blow-by-blow. Corle, who is the owner of Charlottesville Glass & Mirror, remembers the incident well.

When Corle had his lot plowed (on what he believes was a Sunday evening), the snow was falling fast and was expected to continue the next day. The snowplow driver later told Corle that while he was plowing the lot, the Jameses pulled in. He claims that he warned them not to park there, but they ignored him and parked anyway.

Corle showed up the next morning, even though the business was closed for the day, and worked till three or four in the afternoon. The Jameses' car was parked directly in front of the door, with snow piled up on all sides, and remained untouched and unclaimed throughout the day.

"I didn't want to have them towed," Corle says. So he left a note on the back window asking that the owners either move the car or contact him. He also stated that if the car wasn't moved by the middle of the following day, he would have it towed.

Corle also went across the street to Riverside Lunch and asked the owner if he had any idea who the car belonged to. According to Corle, the owner didn't, but said he'd seen a woman (not a couple) get out and walk away.

When Corle returned the next day, the car still hadn't moved. The store was open, though, and Corle spent part of the morning shoveling around the Jameses' car so that customers could get in and out. As Corle points out, his customers exit while carrying glass; conditions were hazardous enough without their also having to maneuver around an illegally parked car.

Finally, at about 11am, Corle called Charlottesville Wrecker and asked if they could tow the car. No way, the owner replied; they were backed up by 30 or 40 calls. Corle randomly chose another company, Lethal, which was able to send someone in short order. "The guy had a heck of a time" towing the car, Corle says, and had to work for "about an hour" to free it from the packed snow.

The Jameses appeared an hour or so later. "The woman was understanding," Corle says, but her husband was not.

"He started cursing," Corle claims; it got so bad that he had to escort James outside so that customers in the store wouldn't have to listen.

"We try to be a good neighbor," Corle says.

James obviously disagrees.

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.