Sound familiar?: Lethal greets new arrivals

Talk about a rough introduction to Charlottesville: getting towed by Lethal, being charged more than the law allows, and searching– in the middle of the night– for an ATM, because (as frequent readers know) Lethal doesn't take credit cards. That's the ordeal Tom Hockett and Joe Warter underwent not long after their arrival in Charlottesville.

As reported in a recent Dish column ["World-class cuisine," November 4], Hockett and Warter moved here from Chicago in June to be executive and sous chefs, respectively, at the tony downtown Fuel Co. Summing up his Lethal interlude, Hockett says that even after living in Chicago and New York, "I never, ever experienced anything this shady in my life."

On the evening of Sunday, September 12, the two went out for a late dinner and to watch some sports. When they returned to Warter's apartment at Trophy Chase apartments on Peyton Drive, Hockett's car was gone.

Hockett claims that they found a sign "behind a bush" that listed Collier's as the towing service to call. Collier's, however, said they didn't have Hockett's car, so he called the Albemarle County police, who suggested he call Lethal. Bingo!

Warter drove his friend to Lethal's office on Avon Street, where Hockett learned that it would cost him $115– in cash– to retrieve his car. That meant a post-midnight trip to an ATM. When he returned and gave the employee $120, the man said he couldn't make change, and since Warter couldn't either, Hockett paid $120.

Hockett claims that when he asked for a receipt, the man replied, "I don't have to give you guys a receipt if I don't want to." Hockett insisted, however, and the man finally complied.

As Lethal-watchers can probably chant in unison by now, the maximum allowed for towing from private property adds up like this:

* $85 for the tow,

* $10 evening/weekend fee, and

* $10 a day for storage after 24 hours.

That means– according to state code Section 46.2-1233.1– that Hockett should have paid only $95.

In addition, as we know from Lethal towee Jonathan Coleman's recent trip through Charlottesville General District Court ["Suing Lethal," November 4], a violation of Section 46.2-1233.1 is also a violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act (Section 59.1-200-204). That meant that Coleman could sue not just for actual damages– the $55 he was charged illegally– but for a minimum of $500. Judge Robert Downer awarded Coleman $500 plus court costs.

Hockett intends to use the same argument in his own suit. (Anyone overcharged by Lethal within the past two years and who has a receipt can initiate an action of their own.)

Let's turn now to the other part of the story: Trophy Chase's switch from Collier's to Lethal and the ensuing confusion it allegedly caused in this case. According to Hockett, when he complained to a Trophy Chase employee, she blamed Warter: Residents, the woman stated, had been given flyers in August announcing the switch.

I spoke with a Trophy Chase property manager named Jean (she declined to give her last name) who claimed that when she reminded Warter about the flyers, he said he'd thrown his away. Warter disputes this version, and says he told her that if he got a flyer, he must have tossed it.

I asked Jean about the Collier's sign both men claim they saw, and she confirmed that the signs had not yet been updated when Hockett was towed– but that they have now.

I asked why Trophy Chase had switched to Lethal, and she replied that Lethal has more "special equipment" than other towing services. "The majority" of apartment complexes, she claimed, also use Lethal.

When I called Lethal for comment, office manager Donielle Messner said, "I don't have anything to say to you– I really wish you'd stop calling."

As long as Hook readers keep calling me, however, I intend to continue.

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


[This story, as originally published in the print edition of the Hook contained a factual error which has been corrected in this online version.–editor]