Lethal rules: Bring cash when arguing

"I just had a harrowing ordeal with Lethal Wrecking!" begins Barbara Hatcher's email. I've written about Lethal a few times– four, to be exact. What's different this time is that the towee is a UVA employee– or, as you'll see shortly, a combination employee and student.

Hatcher admits it was her own fault that she got towed. She parked a borrowed car in the T4 parking lot near Scott Stadium, forgetting that she hadn't transferred her T4 hang tag. When she realized she'd been towed, her boss gave her a ride to Lethal's Avon Street office.

She'd called office manager Donielle Messner twice to get directions and says Messner was "very helpful." But the friendly relations would soon sour.

Hatcher asked whether she could write a check, and Messner said yes– but only if she had a UVA ID.

As Hatcher searched through her purse, she says, Messner asked whether she was a UVA student. Since Hatcher's a student in the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Program– which is a part-time evening program– and a full-time staff member, she answered yes.

When Hatcher presented her faculty/staff ID, she claims that Messner looked at her card and declared, "You just said you were a student. This card says faculty/staff."

Hatcher explained her dual status, but Messner "started to smile and said, 'I can see this is no good. I won't turn you in, but I can't take the card.'"

"I was dumbfounded," says Hatcher. "I asked her, 'Are you saying the card expired?' She said, 'I could make one of these– this card isn't real. I'm not taking anything from you but cash.'"

At that point, Hatcher left to get her boss, Betsy Anthony – even though, as she exited, Messner warned her that she wouldn't take anything besides cash from Anthony, either.

When Anthony and Hatcher returned and offered a credit card in payment, both women claim that Lethal owner George Morris argued, "You can charge that card now and then go home and cancel it, and I don't get paid." ("I hope," Hatcher wrote in her email, "that a businessman like Mr. Morris understands that if I charge $250 at Belk and then cancel my card, I will still get a bill with the Belk charges.")

"While we were in the Lethal office," Hatcher asserts– and Anthony agrees– "we were subjected to insults, accusations, and foul language." The dispute, unfortunately, was witnessed by Messner's eight-year-old daughter.

"The child was seeing this," says Anthony. "I thought, 'Let's lower the temperature and get out of here.'"

Which they did. The women drove to an ATM and returned with cash. Hatcher later filed a complaint with UVA's department of Parking and Transportation.

Messner strongly disputes that version of events. She claims Hatcher had "one of the nastiest attitudes" she's ever experienced. "We were insulted," says Messner. "We expect people to come in and act that way, but not representing the university."

Messner confirms that she insisted on cash because Hatcher had "used profanity" by the time she found her UVA ID. Messner says she also resents the fact that her daughter was exposed to such an unpleasant scene. Hatcher denies using profanity.

In three of my four previous columns, Lethal has been accused of changing its payment terms, and last year AAA reviewed– but did not revoke– the company's contract.

Rebecca White, director of Parking and Transportation, says Lethal was one of three towing services used by UVA during the past month– but the only one they received complaints about. Besides Hatcher, a car owner claimed Lethal damaged his car, and Lethal, according to White, settled out of court.

Perhaps UVA should require that all contracted towing companies agree to adhere to firm payment terms regardless of allegations about the customer's attitude. Sounds like a policy that would lower the stress inherent to being towed, and diminish the likelihood that someone will complain to me again.

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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