Fan's folly: A Lethal night at the arena?
Here's a twist: the towing company did its job, and the consumer may have been wrong. Before you rush to the phones, however, let me provide some qualifiers.
But first, the facts: Around 7:30 on the evening of Tuesday, February 12, David Ern parked in front of Kenny Ball Antiques at Ivy Square Shopping Center. He and his son bought a snack at Foods of All Nations, then walked to U Hall for the UVA-UNC men's basketball game.
Ern says he deliberately parked in front of Kenny Ball because it was closed— unlike its neighbor, Pizza Hut— and he assumed his car wouldn't be towed. But when he returned after the game, his car, along with about five others' cars, had been towed by Lethal Wrecker Service. They soon learned that the Pizza Hut manager was the one who'd had them towed, and that it would cost them $120 apiece to reclaim their cars.
Ern defended his decision to park at Ivy Square by pointing out that he'd been a customer at Foods of All Nations and that he hadn't parked in front of a business that was open. But a sign at the entrance to the shopping center clearly specifies that parking is for tenants and customers only. Do you cease being a customer when you stop shopping? Apparently.
Pizza Hut shift manager Tracy Wright claims that the manager who had the cars towed did so because the store was busy that night, and customers were complaining that parking was tight. All things considered, it seems clear to me that Pizza Hut was within its rights to have non-customers' cars towed. (The manager who had the cars towed, incidentally, left Pizza Hut's employ three days later, but the towing incident doesn't seem to have been a factor.)
Here's where things get interesting: The manager in question called the wrong towing company. The sign in the parking lot states that cars will be towed by Collier's— but she called Lethal, even though, as a tenant of Ivy Square, Pizza Hut should have made sure that employees knew who to call if they needed to have someone towed.
If she had called Collier's, the minimum cost per car would have been $70 and the maximum $95, depending on whether a dolly was used; that means that the cars' owners were overcharged by either 26 or 71 percent. Ern thinks his car wouldn't have needed the dolly— so he was out $50 simply because Pizza Hut called the wrong place.
Some believe that Pizza Hut should reimburse Ern and his fellow towees for the difference between what they were forced to pay and what they would have paid Collier's. Ern thinks so too, and tried twice to get Pizza Hut area manager Gary Flynn to call him, with no luck. I tried twice as well, but Flynn doesn't seem inclined to respond.
So I called his boss, Director of Operations Richard Farrell in Norfolk, but the voice mailbox was full. I tried the legal department at Pizza Hut's corporate headquarters, but only got recordings.
Perhaps Ern, or another person whose car got towed by Lethal from Ivy Square, should give Flynn one more chance— before going straight to Charlottesville's General District Court (small claims) and telling the story to a judge. Perhaps they’ll also make sure Ivy Square Realty and Management, in the person of property manager Michael McIver, understands the complaint. Ivy Square tenants need to know the rules about towing— and be persuaded to follow them.
Confidential to anyone who gets one of those Nigerian bank-scam e-mails: I'm collecting all I can find. Please forward yours to me! Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer at firstname.lastname@example.org or write her at 100 Second St. NW, 22902.