Arlington County is giving residents a chance to respond to proposed changes to the towing code ahead of a County Board vote.
People can share their thoughts in a short online survey before the issue is slated to go before the Board during its regular meeting on Saturday, Feb. 20.
The proposed changes are billed as getting the local code in line with the latest state law, protecting consumers and adjusting to rising costs in the towing industry, according to a staff presentation and additional materials.
Basic towing fee increases are being proposed, from $135 to $150, as well as an increase of the additional fees for night and/or weekend towing, from $25 to $30. That brings the maximum possible towing fee to $210, for a vehicle towed on a weekend night. The “drop fee” for discontinuing a tow in progress, however, will be lowered from $25 to $10.
The online survey has three questions. Among them:
- “Do you support reconciling the County ordinance with state code for purposes of improving enforcement and making the ordinance easier to understand?”
- “Do you support the consumer protection measures included in the proposal? These include enhancements to lighting, safety, accessibility and transparency.”
- “Do you support towing fee increases given the provided financial justification?”
The survey gives the following justification for the fee increases:
In this provided justification, towing operators have indicated increased costs. Staff have included supported materials from towers and Consumer Price Index data has indicated an inflationary increase in our area. Given these economic factors and regulatory requirements that towers have to be within a 3.25 mile radius of Arlington to support private businesses, do you support raising the tow fees to the maximum fees as regulated by state?
These proposed changes come after the county determined, among other things, that some towing and pricing practices are unfair and predatory, signage about towing is inadequate, and people do not have many ways to fight back when their cars are improperly towed and stored, according to a staff report.
“The County Board has found that some members of the public and their property have been placed at risk in circumstances where their vehicles have been towed from private property without their consent and placed in storage,” the report said.
Included in the code would be an updated definition of “immobilization” to mean anything “that does not damage the vehicle,” including using barnacles.
The recommendations were made by county staff with the Trespass Towing Advisory Board.
(Updated at 3:15 p.m.) Arlington officials are again looking to amend the county’s much-talked-about towing ordinance.
A number of the proposed changes would bring the county’s ordinance in line with Virginia law, which was recently updated. However, several may be met with public pushback, including increases in some towing fees.
Today (Tuesday), as part of its recessed meeting, the County Board will vote to advertise a public hearing in February on the changes, as proposed by the County Manager and Trespass Towing Advisory Board (TTAB).
The proposals include updating the definition of “immobilization,” reinforcing the ban on certain public safety vehicles from being towed, and more re-defining who is allowed to tow and when.
The definition of “immobilization” would mean anything “that does not damage the vehicle,” including booting and using barnacles, for which the towing operator can charge a $25 fee to remove. To bring county code in line with Virginia’s, it clarifies language specifying that police, fire, and public safety vehicles parked temporarily can not be towed.
TTAB also agrees that vehicle owners should be able to request information via email from towing operators, like photos and authorization contracts. An email address would must be provided by the towing operator.
Basic towing fee increases are being proposed, from $135 to $150, as well as an increase of the additional fees for night and/or weekend towing, from $25 to $30. That brings the maximum possible towing fee to $210, for a vehicle towed on a weekend night.
This accounts, according to the TTAB, for “rising labor costs and shortage of qualified commercial driver candidates.”
An additional fee change would lower the cost to pay a tow driver to release a vehicle, if the owner arrives before it’s towed.
“The County Manager recommends reducing the in lieu of towing, or ‘drop fee’ from $25 to $10,” a presentation on the changes notes.
Another change would be who is allowed to tow and when.
In April 2017, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill that contradicted a county law forcing local businesses to authorize each individual tow from their property (or “real-time authorization”).
Only months earlier, the Arlington County Board had voted to approve this real-time authorization as a means “to mitigate aggressive towing practices” — a recurring issue in Arlington. The County Board chair at the time, Jay Fisette, expressed disappointment at the governor’s decision. (McAuliffe is currently mounting another gubernatorial campaign.)
Now, the County Manager and TTAB are proposing to bring county code in line with the Commonwealth and to officially negate the 2016 county law. Using “language derived” from Virginia, the county is proposing that a written contract is enough authorization for towing operators to monitor and tow from private lots without real-time authorization.
Other changes are being proposed to the ordinance with the stated goal of consumer protection. Those include ensuring towing facilities are properly lit, towing placards are properly displayed, and requiring that towing signs “clearly state hours of the day, and days of the week, that towing is in effect.”
A 29-year-old D.C. man is behind bars after police say he pulled a gun on a tow truck driver early this morning.
The incident happened just before 3:30 a.m., near the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive. Police say a tow truck driver was about to tow a car when the suspect approached, brandishing a gun and demanding the car be released. He then drove off.
The suspect and his car were later spotted a few blocks away, in Alcova Heights. Police say he took off on foot, tossed the gun and tried to scale a fence, but was tased by officers and taken into custody.
The suspect is now facing a battery of charges, including robbery, reckless driving and weapons violations.
More from an Arlington County Police Department crime report:
ARMED ROBBERY, 2020-08280038, S. Walter Reed Drive at Columbia Pike. At approximately 3:21 a.m. on August 28, police were dispatched to the report of a brandishing. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim had finished securing the suspect’s vehicle prior to towing it when he was approached by the suspect, who allegedly brandished a firearm, threatened the victim and demanded the release of the vehicle and items of value. The victim complied and the suspect fled in his vehicle. Arriving officers located the suspect vehicle parked and unoccupied in the area of 9th Street S. and S. Monroe Street and observed the suspect walking in the area. As additional officers arrived on scene, the suspect fled on foot and a brief foot pursuit ensued, during which the suspect discarded the firearm he was carrying. The suspect ignored lawful commands of officers and attempted to flee over a fence. An officer successfully deployed their taser and he was taken into custody without further incident. Drake Anthony, Jr., 29, of Washington, D.C., was arrested and charged with charged with Robbery, Brandishing a Firearm, Reckless Handling of a Firearm, Use of a Firearm in the Commission of a Felony, Obstruction of Justice, Carrying a Concealed Weapon, and Reckless Driving, and held on no bond.
(Updated at 9:55 a.m.) Advanced Towing, long accused by critics of predatory towing, is being sued by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.
The Commonwealth alleges that Advanced often unsafely tows vehicles, sometimes tows without legal authority, and in general exhibits conduct that is “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.”
“Advanced frequently tows vehicles quickly and carelessly in an effort to tow as many vehicles as possible,” the lawsuit said. “This predatory and overly aggressive behavior causes consumers to become irate and results in many phone calls to the local police department.”
One such irate customer was current Fox News personality Britt McHenry, who famously was caught on video berating an Advanced Towing employee after her car was towed from a restaurant parking lot in Clarendon.
The suit cites instances in which Advanced has towed food delivery vehicles and Amazon vans. It also alleges that on at least two occasions — in August 2019 and February 2020 — Advanced illegally towed Arlington County Police Department vehicles.
The suit discusses how the company has managed to become such a prolific tower of cars determined to be trespassing on the lots of local businesses. Advanced “has employed the use of ‘spotters,’ who are individuals (sometimes children or teenagers) who patrol a parking lot and contact Advanced’s drivers when they see a vehicle they believe is impermissibly parked,” the suit says.
The company operates a tow lot in Ballston, a frequent destination for Arlington police responding to towing disputes. Such disputes led an Uber driver to allegedly strike Advanced owner John O’Neill with his car in January. Another towing dispute, at a Crystal City gas station, led to a stabbing in 2018.
Advanced Towing has even made political headlines.
“Incumbent candidate Barbara Favola was recently criticized by challenger Nicole Merlene for allegedly helping to loosen state towing regulations after accepting combined contributions of $7,250 over previous years from Advanced Towing, with an additional $2,500 coming from company owner John O’Neill,” ARLnow reported last year.
Critics of Advanced Towing have, over the years, frequently emailed ARLnow with tales of alleged bad behavior and have given it a rare one-star review on Yelp. One even created a website with an exhaustive list of complaints about the company.
The lawsuit is “seeking restitution on behalf of consumers, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees, and asking the court to ban Advanced Towing from further violating the Virginia and Arlington County towing code provisions,” notes a press release (below).
Attorney General Mark R. Herring has filed a lawsuit against Advanced Towing Company, LLC, a towing and recovery operator based in Arlington, Virginia. The Complaint alleges that Advanced Towing has violated Virginia and Arlington County towing code provisions, resulting in towing conduct that is “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.”
“Virginia consumers should not have to worry about towing companies acting illegally or employing predatory, unsafe business practices,” said Attorney General Herring. “My team and I will continue to hold towing companies and bad actors accountable when they break the law and take advantage of consumers.”
The Complaint alleges that Advanced Towing has employed tow truck drivers who are not properly registered with the Commonwealth, implemented a practice of unsafely towing vehicles, towed vehicles without the proper legal authority, unlawfully towed police vehicles and commercial delivery vehicles like Amazon delivery vans, and failed to maintain appropriate contracts with property owners authorizing tows.
Attorney General Herring is seeking restitution on behalf of consumers, civil penalties, attorneys’ fees, and asking the court to ban Advanced Towing from further violating the Virginia and Arlington County towing code provisions.
There’s a global-pandemic-slash-economic-crisis going on, but you know what apparently isn’t affected? Towing.
Just like death and taxes, being towed is inevitable if you park without a permit in a private lot patrolled by a towing company. Even now.
That hasn’t stopped some people from trying, though, with predictable results. One local resident contacted ARLnow to suggest that trespass towing presents unnecessary risks during this time.
I live in a condo association in South Arlington that has parking policies that during normal conditions ensures that there is enough parking spaces for its residents at night. The policy is in effect from 8PM to 8AM. Virginia is currently under stay-at-home orders. My neighbors are not having gatherings or parties. Parking spots are not taken to local traffic visiting bars and restaurants. There are adequate spaces for residents and their guests. The parking policy does not hold.
However, the condo association is upholding a parking policy. Since my car was towed because I had not shown the proper permit, I need to get an Uber to the towing company in Falls Church and I would need to interact with the towing company to pay for any fees. I am putting my health in jeopardy, along with every person that I interact with. All of these risks could have been avoided if my car was not towed in the first place. I am not sure if towing from a residential property constitutes as essential business.
Who is looking out for our community’s well being for nonessential business that might put us at risk? How do we uphold stay-at-home guidelines when businesses are operating as business as usual?
I suspect that my circumstance is not the only one. I am not confident that Alrington can lower its positive Coronavirus cases if we do not take social distancing seriously.
(ARLnow has received similar messages about the county’s parking enforcement: “I noticed all cars being ticketed on my street this morning… Might be a good article to publish / investigate given the federal government’s recommendation that people not leave their homes / condos.”)
Given the current public health emergency, do you think it would make sense to suspend all trespass towing on private lots — kind of like The Purge but for parking? Or should parking restrictions should continue to be enforced?
Tow Truck Chase Ends in Arlington — “A suspect involved in a domestic dispute in Prince George’s County lead officers on a chase through D.C. and into Arlington, Virginia, Tuesday night… police believed the suspect was armed and had kidnapped a young child, but the child was safe in Maryland.” [NBC 4, Twitter]
Rave Review for New Rosslyn Restaurant — “Sfoglina exceeds the preview offered by the sfogline in the window. The fare is comforting to the core and will leave you wanting more of Trabocchi’s cooking. You’re in luck, he’s considering opening more restaurants in Northern Virginia.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]
ACFD Helps Retrieve Wayward Pentagon Flag — “When the flags came loose earlier this month at the #Pentagon, Truck 105 from Crystal City was called in for a rescue. Good work everyone!” [Twitter]
(Updated at 8:25 a.m.) The driver of a car with Uber branding is in police custody after an incident at the Advanced Towing lot in Ballston.
Witnesses tell ARLnow that around 3 p.m. a man was trying to prevent the Uber vehicle from leaving the tow lot at 4000 5th Road N. when the driver gunned it, striking the man, another vehicle and a utility pole.
When a reporter arrived on scene, the alleged driver was being taken into custody by police a short distance away from the lot. The striking vehicle — a silver Kia with a cross on the hood — could be seen parked on 5th Road N. with a damaged front bumper and the passenger side of its front windshield shattered.
According to scanner traffic, the victim was bleeding from the face after being struck and was being transported to Virginia Hospital Center via ambulance. His injuries were described as non-life-threatening.
A towing company employee told ARLnow that the victim was Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill.
“All this over 135 bucks,” the employee said.
Police said Monday evening that a Fairfax man had been arrested and is facing multiple charges.
“At approximately 3:11 p.m. on January 13, police were dispatched to the report of a crash with injuries in the 4000 block of 5th Road N.,” said Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect attempted to exit a tow lot as the employee was closing the gate. The suspect allegedly accelerated, struck the employee, a dumpster and light pole before fleeing the scene.”
“An officer located the suspect and took him into custody without incident,” Savage continued. “The employee was transported to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Gigssa Bekele Bengessa, 27, of Fairfax, VA was arrested and charged with Malicious Wounding, Destruction of Property and Defrauding a Garage Keeper. He was held on no bond. “
Advanced Towing gained national notoriety in 2015 after video emerged of an ESPN reporter, whose car was towed, berating an Advanced employee. The company, which tows cars that are considered to be trespassing on private lots and then charges the vehicle’s owner a fee, faces frequent accusations of “predatory” towing.
Photos and reporting by Vernon Miles
New Noise Enforcement Tools — “Arlington government officials have added new tools in an effort to address nighttime noise violations from restaurants and bars. The new policy is designed to target ‘the ones who consistently refuse to comply’ in resolving noise complaints, County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac told County Board members on Oct. 22.” [InsideNova]
Beyer on Aircraft Noise — “Today, Rep. Don Beyer (VA-08) sent a letter to the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration expressing concerns about its recent announcement to make changes to flight paths at DCA to accommodate Secret Service needs without giving meaningful consideration to community interests.” [Press Release]
Video: Amazon Truck Towed in Crystal City — “Can’t say we didn’t warn you… controversial Advanced Towing removes an @amazon truck from ‘National Landing.'” [Twitter]
Housing Supply Down, Prices Up — “The Arlington County, Virginia, housing market continues to get more expensive, and potential buyers continue to have fewer and fewer houses and condos to consider.” [WTOP]
What Goes Into an Arlington Nat’l Cemetery Burial — “If you live near Arlington, you may be familiar with the sound of cannon fire early in the morning. The Presidential Salute Battery fires cannons for military ceremonies in Washington and is the only unit of its kind in the Army. ” [WAMU]
Nearby: Nats World Series Scam — Per Fairfax County Police: “Our Detectives are investigating an increasing number of scams involving the sale of @Nationals World Series tickets. Please use caution when purchasing tickets from sources other than @MLB authorized dealers.” [Twitter, FCPD]
Two Arlington institutions — one well established, the other new to town — recently clashed in Falls Church, in an incident caught on video.
Infamous trespass towing titan Advanced Towing can be seen in the YouTube video towing an Amazon delivery van as the driver was mid-delivery at an apartment complex, just across the Arlington border in Falls Church.
In the video, the Amazon delivery driver can be seen hurriedly approaching the apartments to make his deliveries. Then, an Advanced tow truck driver — along with two helpers on foot — work to tow the driver’s van, which was parked in front of several empty parking spaces, with its hazard lights on. The tow truck quickly drives off with the van in tow, the big Amazon swoosh soon well in the distance.
Shortly thereafter, the somewhat confused Amazon driver can be seen talking to another Advanced tow driver in the parking lot.
“The new ‘King of the Hill’ is playing out in Arlington,” quipped a tipster who sent the video to ARLnow.
“How are we supposed to get our Amazon Prime deliveries at all?” asked the video poster, a resident. “They’d probably do this to USPS, FedEx, and UPS trucks too.”
Ballston-based Advanced Towing is contracted by property owners to tow vehicles trespassing in lots where parking is restricted to customers, residents or other permit holders. But its reputed aggressiveness in towing has earned the ire of TV personalities, online reviewers and voters.
Video via TheFPStraveller
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
(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.