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John O’Neill, Advanced Towing’s owner, said he has received between 10 and 12 inquiries and new clients since the video leaked April 16, about double the company’s normal rate.
“New customer inquiries and acquisitions do increase when parking space poaching receives media notoriety,” he told ARLnow.com in an email. “Every new residential or commercial highrise being built in Arlington and surrounding areas engage towing services and there are a fair number of new projects being constructed. There are often more vehicles than available spaces in residential or multi-use settings causing parking to be an ongoing, popular topic.”
While Advanced Towing trucks may be getting busier, they won’t be towing cars away from the Hunan One Restaurant parking lot in Clarendon, at 3033 Wilson Blvd, where McHenry’s car was towed.
Hunan One General Manager Dale Jin told ARLnow.com yesterday that the restaurant’s building — a seven-story mixed-use structure with offices on top of ground floor retail — was recently sold to Carr Properties. When Carr Properties bought the building, it brought in Henry’s Wrecker Service to patrol the lot.
“We’re much happier now,” Jin said. “We complained for years about the towing company.”
O’Neill confirmed that Advanced no longer serves the lot, but said the change had “no connection whatsoever” with the McHenry incident
Hat tip to @6number6
Video of ESPN reporter and WJLA alumna Britt McHenry’s dealings with Advanced Towing after her car was towed from the Hunan One parking lot in Clarendon earlier this month has been leaked.
LiveLeak, an open-source video sharing platform, published the video today, which was promptly amplified by the sports site Deadspin. McHenry can be seen and heard berating the towing lot’s employee, insulting her education, teeth and weight. During the video, the employee warns McHenry “I’ll play your video, so be careful.”
On April 6, McHenry tweeted that she was towed from Hunan One’s parking lot. When we asked for clarification, she said she had been eating dinner at the restaurant and therefore was legally parked and, apparently, improperly towed. McHenry has since taken down her initial tweet.
With that story, we asked readers if tow companies were doing their job or preying on their customers. Of the 2,740 poll responses, 2,298 — 83.9 percent — answered “They’re mostly shady predators out to make a buck.”
After the video went viral on the Internet this afternoon, McHenry tweeted an apology.
“In an intense and stressful moment, I allowed my emotions to get the best of me and said some insulting and regrettable things,” she said. “As frustrated as I was, I should always choose to be respectful and take the high road. I am so sorry for my actions and will learn from this mistake.”
In Britt McHenry’s defense, the advanced Towing people are the most revolting company. Cash only and they don’t make change.
— Tom Bridge (@tbridge) April 16, 2015
The thing is: they taunt you the whole time you’re there instead of just charging your card and letting you go.
— Tom Bridge (@tbridge) April 16, 2015
Have been towed 4x by Advanced Towing, all from my home lot where I have permit. They held car hostage, had no time to argue, paid $135 4x.
— Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring) April 16, 2015
@971theticketxyt if you've ever seen Advanced Towing and the way they operate, you'd think Britt didn't go far enough.
— Kevin H. Watson (@Kevin_H_Watson) April 16, 2015
An ARLnow.com reporter went to Advanced Towing’s lot in Ballston this afternoon, and was given an email address to contact the owner. The owner has not yet responded to our inquiry.
Warning: Explicit language
The company’s drivers will watch over restricted parking spaces and wait for some unfortunate schmo to park there and walk off the owner’s property, at which point they snatch the car and drive off. They do this at the Four Mile Run branch of the Virginia DMV, at the Westmont Shopping Center on Columbia Pike, and elsewhere around Arlington. Needless to say, it has not won them many friends.
They have earned themselves a steady stream of hate on Yelp. They have been the subject of a not-safe-for-work screed by a prominent local blogger. And they’re often involved in disputes that have to be settled by police.
The dispute that led to the photo above happened last week when a driver thought his car was damaged by an Advanced tow truck. Police concluded that it was preexisting damage.
One day later, a man contacted TBD and ARLnow.com after his car was towed from the same private lot adjacent to the DMV. He accused Advanced of using a “decoy” to attract people to the spaces, then threatening him when he tried to warn others. “Aggressive towing, intimidation at Arlington DMV parking lot,” TBD’s headline read.
This all brings up the inevitable question: Is Advanced unethical? Are they preying on unsuspecting drivers without regard to circumstance? Or are they delivering justice to people who ignore no parking signs?
Police have charged 33-year-old Arlington resident Norman Mitchell Brawner, Jr. with malicious wounding in connection with the brawl last Thursday (May 10) at the Exxon station near the intersection of 23rd Street S. and Route 1. Police believe a man confronted Brawner as he began to tow his car, then a fight broke out between the pair that resulted in Brawner stabbing the man.
While Arlington police initially reported only that a federal law enforcement officer witnessed the confrontation, spokeswoman Ashley Savage now tells ARLnow that an FBI agent at the station intervened when he saw the two men start fighting.
“An FBI agent witnessed the incident and gave commands to cease the assault while displaying his firearm,” Savage wrote in an email. “The suspect left the scene and the tow company contacted police with the suspect’s location. The FBI agent remained on scene with the victim until police arrived.”
Savage says the victim was taken to a nearby hospital with “serious but non-life threatening injuries.” She would not confirm which towing company Brawner was working for, but WJLA reports that it was Advanced Towing — which has faced persistent allegations of predatory towing practices and which made national headlines in 2015 after video emerged of then-ESPN reporter Britt McHenry berating an Advanced employee.
The company’s owner, John O’Neill, did not respond to requests for comment on the incident, though signs at the Exxon alert drivers that anyone parking illegally will be towed by Advance Towing.
Brawner is set to appear in Arlington County General District Court on June 22 for a preliminary hearing.
Photo courtesy Arlington County Police Department
One person was stabbed and other is in police custody after a towing dispute in Crystal City led to violence Thursday afternoon.
The incident happened around 1:30 p.m. at the Exxon station near the intersection of 23rd Street S. and Route 1.
“At approximately 1:29 p.m. police were dispatched to a dispute in progress in the 2300 block of Jefferson Davis Highway,” said Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “Upon arrival, it was determined that a verbal dispute over towing escalated into physical violence, resulting in a victim suffering from a stab wound.”
“The victim has been transported to the hospital in serious condition,” Savage continued.” One suspect has been taken into custody. There are no outstanding suspects and no ongoing threat to the community. Police remain on scene investigating.”
Officers were initially dispatched to the scene for a report of a fight involving a man with a gun. The man was soon determined to be an armed law enforcement officer who in some way intervened, according to scanner traffic.
“A federal law enforcement officer witnessed the incident,” Savage said in response to an inquiry by ARLnow.com. “The details surrounding the incident remain under investigation.”
Update at 6:35 p.m. — WJLA is reporting that an Advanced Towing tow truck driver was arrested and is accused of stabbing the victim during a dispute over towing the victim’s car.
Photo via Google Maps
(Updated at 6 p.m.) A new bill is raising the statewide cap on towing charges to $150 but won’t require Northern Virginia localities to raise their towing rates as was initially proposed, according to Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-49).
HB800 initially required towing rate increases to $150 for standard-size vehicles, $250 for medium-size vehicles, and $500 for large vehicles, but only in Northern Virginia.
Lopez says he reached an agreement with the Republican patron of the bill, Del. David Yancey (R-94), to amend it to remove the large towing fee hike. It will instead raise the cap to $150 statewide, while also letting Northern Virginia localities set their own towing rates by removing a requirement — currently in law — that the rate be set at $135, according to Lopez’s office.
“Rather than dramatically increasing the amount that tow truck companies can charge unsuspecting Virginians, we should be working to address the practice of predatory towing in Northern Virginia,” the delegate’s office said in a press release.
As a result of numerous complaints about predatory towing practices, Arlington passed towing restrictions which required business owners to sign off on each tow.
The ordinance met resistance from some in the business community who felt the “second signature” requirement was unduly burdensome.
Unfortunately, managers of business, often restaurants, tell those towed they have no power over the decision. So what is a person to do as they stand in the parking lot with no car but a receipt from the business in hand? It is no wonder they often lash out at the Advanced Towing attendant like one ESPN reporter did.
There is little recourse for the person other to pay the $135 to get their car back. Most do not have the time or the resources to even attempt to get their money back, something Advanced knows. Even if they wanted to bring a small claims court action against the towing company or the business who owns the parking lot, the process seems daunting to most.
If business owners refuse to be held accountable and the towing company refuses to be held accountable, then who is to blame when the towing company gets it wrong? That is the question the Arlington County Board tried to answer with its new ordinance.
The coalition opposed to Arlington’s ordinance went to the General Assembly to overturn the County Board’s decision. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) initially rejected the legislation, but eventually signed it into law.
After hearing about another victim of Advanced Towing last week, I did another online search on the company. What did I find?
According to this NBC 4 report, the company made a $1,500 contribution to state Sen. Barbara Favola (D) to encourage her to meet with Gov. McAuliffe and share the “pros and cons” of legislation after she initially opposed it.
The contribution was made April 13. The meeting with the governor took place April 24. It was part of what was called “a full-court press by Democratic senators and the business community that convinced the governor to back the bill.”
Favola and McAuliffe eventually sided with Advanced Towing and the business owners who did not want to be hassled with signing off on each tow.
Arlington’s towing ordinance may not have been the perfect solution. To be sure, businesses have a right to ensure their parking lots are used by their customers. But Advanced has towed people who were lawfully parked and may continue to do so without fear of any meaningful repercussions.
Above the objection of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and numerous local business owners, the Arlington County Board on Tuesday approved a series of changes to its towing ordinance, including a controversial provision requiring businesses to authorize individual tows.
The so-called “real time authorization” provision was approved with a delayed implementation date: July 1, 2017. That will give the County Manager time to “identify alternative strategies to mitigate aggressive towing practices and provide an interim report,” according to a county press release.
The provision, which was not recommended by the County Manager nor the county’s Trespass Towing Advisory Board, requires “real time authorization for all tows from commercial property conducted during business hours.” Currently, businesses can grant blanket pre-authorization to towing companies to tow any vehicle trespassing on their lots.
Other provisions approved unanimously by the County Board include:
- “Require tow truck drivers to photograph the vehicle at all four corners, providing vehicle owners with important safeguards should their vehicle be damaged, and providing towers with protection against false damage claims.”
- “Requiring that the receipt given to the vehicle owner include a disclosure that photos and/or video evidence taken before the tow are available upon request and the contact information for the County office that handles trespass towing complaints.”
- “Requiring towing and recovery operators to properly secure all loads to meet all safety standards.”
- “A new requirement for signage/markings on the interior of parking lots or facilities to provide additional, clear information to vehicle owners about the parking restrictions on the property. This requirement builds upon the existing requirement for signs at all vehicle entrances.”
- “Extend the eligible area for the location of storage facilities from three miles to three and one-quarter miles. This could allow more eligible locations for storage facilities, giving property owners more contractors to choose from without burdening vehicle owners in retrieving their vehicles.”
“These amendments provide important protections to vehicle owners whose vehicles are taken without their consent,” County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette said in a statement. “We believe these reasonable requirements support the rights of Arlington County property owners and their tenants to enforce restrictions on their property while providing common sense standards for how vehicles are removed.”
The Board also authorized two additional towing fees: $25 for towing a vehicle in the evening (7 p.m.-8 a.m.) and $25 for towing a vehicle on a weekend or holiday. The changes were required by state code. Together, the fees could increase the initial charge for a tow (not including storage fees) to as high as $185.
Another provision prohibits towing companies from towing public safety vehicles, except at the direction of police.
The first speaker was Florence Fee, who complained about alleged predatory towing practices. She described an occasion in which she was going to the doctor for a prescription and blood test and, due to a lack of available parking at the hospital, she parked at a parking lot for a small shopping center nearby.
“I was gone about 15-20 minutes, came back out to the parking lot, walked outside and had a very surreal moment because my car was completely gone and I had to stop for a minute and recall if I actually did drive into the parking lot,” she said. “There was a sign but it was maybe 1×2 feet, not a large sign. I walked into one of the small shops and the clerks there said to me they saw exactly what had happened. The towers were hiding behind bushes, they saw me coming in, watched where I walked to and when I walked to the Kaiser medical facility instead of the shops, they immediately towed my car. I want to stress I was gone 15-20 minutes and I was at a medical facility.”
Also making an appearance was a man named Matt, who has published a website devoted to making a case against Advanced Towing, which he says damaged his Jeep during a tow. Matt said argued that the only complaints taken into account by the advisory board were the official ones sent into Arlington County, compared to the dozens of complaints on websites like Yelp, where Advanced Towing currently has a 1-star rating from 114 reviews.
The advisory board is currently seeking public comment on the county’s towing ordinance, through Aug. 15. Comments received will be considered at the board’s Sept. 15 meeting.
Voting members of the advisory board include an Arlington resident and several members of the police department and owners of towing companies.
The State and Local Predatory Towing Enforcement Act introduced by congressmen Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) was added to an existing transportation bill as an amendment on Wednesday morning.
As it stands, federal law limits the ability of state and local governments to regulate the towing industry. The bill-turned-amendment would give them the ability to do so in an attempt to prevent predatory towing.
“State and local governments provide the best authority to regulate the towing industry and protect Virginians from unfair, predatory practices,” Rep. Beyer said in a press release. “We need more common-sense, consumer friendly solutions like this amendment to protect our constituents’ wallets.”
The predatory towing debate isn’t new to Arlington. The issue received national attention this past spring when ESPN sportscaster and WJLA alumna Britt McHenry was caught on camera losing her temper at an employee at Ballston-based Advanced Towing.
Shortly after the video of the incident was published online, Beyer’s bill was first introduced to the House.
In May, County Board Member Jay Fisette told ARLnow that under the legislation, he would support giving a towing veto to local businesses, requiring the owner’s approval before a vehicle is removed from their property.
The legislation Beyer’s bill would be amending, called the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act or STRR Act, is expected to pass in the House of Representatives by the end of the week, according to the Congressman’s office.
The bill is nearly 600 pages long and would authorize more than $300 billion for transportation across the country. Specific plans for the funds include improving infrastructure, highway safety programs and public transportation.
According to The Hill, Beyer’s and Hollen’s amendment is one of nearly 300 up for debate by the House before voting on the STRR Act.