Lethal tale: Jetta owner takes lumps

"I moved to the country because of Lethal." With that dramatic opener, Robert Parolisi proceeded to detail his history with Lethal Wrecker.

Parolisi had lived at The Meadows– the large apartment complex on Mountainwood Road– for the "nine or ten years" before he moved to Palmyra earlier this month after tangling with Lethal employees twice in the space of 72 hours. Before chronicling those encounters, however, we need to go back to the fall of 2002 (Parolisi can't remember the exact date).

Parolisi got a call at work from his wife, who asked where their Chevy Lumina van had gone. He had no idea, he says he told her, and so he reported it stolen to the Albemarle County Police.

Someone at the police department reported back to say that it had been towed by Lethal because its tags were expired. Parolisi claims that he protested and gave the officer the van's registration information, which was declared to be current. Apparently, someone had looked only at the month and not the year, and Parolisi had renewed for two years.

He says that Lethal returned the van, but because it had front-wheel drive and had been towed rear-first on the trip out and nose-first on the way back, "the transmission snapped." When he called Lethal to report the damage and said he held them responsible, he claims Lethal owner George Morris stated that Parolisi would have to "take him to court." Instead, Parolisi sold the van and absorbed the loss; he estimates that the broken transmission cost him around $1,800.

Fast forward to this year. On Friday June 25, his Jetta– which had been in a space at The Meadows for about six weeks after being totaled in an accident– was towed. When Parolisi called Lethal to ask why, he was told that the car didn't have a Meadows parking permit. Parolisi claims he didn't realize that parking permits were required.

Two days later, on Sunday June 27, around 10:30pm, he heard his girlfriend's car alarm (he and his wife are now separated), went outside to investigate, and found a Lethal employee getting ready to tow the car. When he asked why, he was told the car didn't have a guest pass. As with the parking permit, he states that he didn't know guest passes were required.

Parolisi claims he asked what Lethal's "show-up fee" is– i.e., what a customer is charged if he agrees to remove the car instead of being towed– and was told $50. He only had $28 on him, and he says the driver agreed to wait while he went to an ATM. When he returned, however, the car was gone. Parolisi went to Lethal's Avon Street office, where he claims he was charged $110– even though the Code of Virginia sets $85 as the maximum ($75 for the tow and $10 for being after 7pm).

After that, Parolisi bade farewell to The Meadows, and is enjoying life in the country.

I called to get Lethal's comments, if any, but when I identified myself, office manager Donielle Messner promptly hung up.

I had a more productive conversation with Virginia Gill, asset manager for Frye Properties, which is based in Norfolk and owns The Meadows. Gill has only recently begun spending time in Charlottesville, so she had to do some digging to get answers to my questions– namely, when did the complex begin requiring parking permits and guest passes?

Gill claims that Parolisi's rental file contains a document– which Parolisi allegedly signed in November 2000– that lists the Chevy Lumina as belonging to him and bears the notation "Permit #350." There's also an undated "reminder about the rules and regulations of parking at The Meadows," Gill claims, which, again, Parolisi signed. Finally, she said, there's an application for a guest pass dated October 4, 2003, which Parolisi's wife and another person– Gill couldn't say who– signed.

Looks like the question of who knew what about permits will have to remain a mystery. In the meantime, Gill says she intends to review The Meadows' towing contract and policies, and perhaps even ensure that residents are notified before they're towed.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville, 22905.

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