Still in: Lethal's A-OK with AAA

Last week's column ended with a cliffhanger: Would AAA retain its emergency road-service contract with Lethal Wrecker, or call it quits?

The question arose because, on at least two occasions, Lethal drivers had demanded payment from AAA members for road service that AAA says should have been free. I reported both incidents ["The drivable car," May 9, 2002, and "Rude awakening," June 5] and have discussed the situation at length with Randy Green, public relations manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

I can now report that Lethal will continue to be AAA's primary contractor for Charlottesville. Lethal's owner, George Morris, met with two Mid-Atlantic road-service managers on May 30.

"He has assured us that he is going to fix these past mistakes and not repeat them," says Green, "and we are taking him at his word." Green adds that AAA is "very confident" that there will be no more problems.

"Overall, minus these isolated incidents," Green said, Lethal's service record has been "very, very positive." Those "isolated incidents," however, were apparently serious enough to make AAA question its relationship with Lethal. I asked Morris, via fax, if he had any comment, and he certainly did: He called, spewed obscenities at high volume, and threatened to sue.

Morris might want to work on his phone manners; in 2001, he was charged in Charlottesville General District Court with using obscene language on the telephone, but the case was nol prossed. That means that the Commonwealth's Attorney decided not to pursue the case– but reserved the right to resurrect it at some later date.

In my fax, I also asked Morris about a 1998 incident involving Charlottesville resident Jeff Melkerson. Melkerson, who was then a member of AAA Tidewater, claims that Lethal towed his Ford F100 truck from the Ruckersville area of 29 North to his Barracks Road apartment. The driver, according to Melkerson, refused to unload his truck unless he paid $80 in cash– which, with help from his roommate, he did.

Morris' response was that he "wasn't even in business in 1998." When I asked when he had started Lethal, he exclaimed, "None of your fucking business," and, a few moments later, hung up on me. The 1998 Charlottesville phone book, however, reveals that Lethal was indeed in business that year, at 406 Four Seasons Drive.

 According to the Central Virginia Better Business Bureau's database, Lethal "has an unsatisfactory record with the Bureau due to a pattern of complaints. The company has resolved some complaints; however, some complaints remain unresolved."

Morris has been a defendant 13 times in Albemarle and City of Charlottesville General District Courts since 1993, in both civil and criminal cases. In four civil cases, he's listed as doing business as Lethal (and, in another case, as AAA Mid-Atlantic), but most frequently, he shows up as an individual.

Almost all were "warrant in debt" and property recovery actions, and most were dismissed or nol prossed. In 1995, however, he was convicted of assault and battery of a Crozet woman and received a suspended sentence of 90 days.

Currently, Morris is being sued in Albemarle General District Court by Earlysville resident Bill Hedges, who claims that Lethal, in the course of towing his 1992 Mercedes, caused $1,300 damage. Hedges could not be reached for comment, but the case has been continued to June 30.

AAA members have the option of requesting that Lethal not be called. Problems– with Lethal or any other AAA contractor– should be reported to AAA Member Relations at 800-763-8200.

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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