(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?
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(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
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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.
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Photo courtesy Peter Golkin
Local businesses will not have to authorize each individual tow from their property after Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed a bill ending the would-be practice.
HB 1960 overrides Arlington County’s towing regulations that required a so-called “real-time authorization” of each tow during business hours. The county’s regulations were set to come into effect on July 1.
The bill, introduced by Del. Tim Hugo (R-40), prevents any jurisdiction in Northern Virginia from requiring the authorization, also known as a second signature. The first signature is the contract that authorizes a company to tow from a particular property.
Having previously railed against the requirement, Arlington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Kate Bates praised McAuliffe’s decision.
Bates said in a statement:
The signing of this important legislation into law is a huge win for the Arlington business community. Arlington businesses rely on being able to provide clear, available parking for customers, employees and visitors in order to stay viable, and HB 1960 empowers and protects these businesses so they can continue to do just that. By removing the ability of local lawmakers to force businesses to adhere to a second authorization towing requirement, this legislation returns the decision-making power about the removal of illegally parked vehicles back where it belong: in the hands of private property owners and business owners.
McAuliffe said in an interview on WTOP this morning that he signed the bill after having conversations with representatives of local chambers of commerce and small businesses.
“I always will come down on the side of the small business community, so I signed the bill,” McAuliffe said.
County Board chair Jay Fisette told ARLnow.com he was “disappointed” at McAuliffe’s decision, after he initially tried to amend the bill. Fisette said the second signature is necessary to prevent predatory towing.
“For us, it’s important because predatory towing has gotten worse over recent years, and an increasing number of people are affected by it,” Fisette said. “There is a better balance that can be struck to reduce the number of tows that occur in the first two minutes that somebody parks in a space.”
Fisette said he hopes the Chamber and county can now work together to find a way to address both parties’ concerns.
One minor change requested by McAuliffe, concerning fines for towing operators in Northern Virginia that will apply each time they make an improper tow or violate certain towing regulations, was made to the final bill by the legislature. The bill also calls for towing operators to notify the local animal control office when a car is towed with a pet inside.
Local Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48) spoke forcefully against the bill on the floor of the House of Delegates during the General Assembly’s reconvened session earlier this month to discuss McAuliffe’s amendments and vetoes.
He said the fact that other localities like Virginia Beach and Stafford County have a second signature provision shows inconsistency. He said the General Assembly should have “left well alone” for jurisdictions to decide.
“My big concern with this bill is I don’t quite understand why having granted this authority to localities over a decade ago, Northern Virginia is being now carved out and this authority to pass ordinances like the one Arlington did is being stripped away in some localities but not others,” he told ARLnow.com. “There are other localities that do use this authority and apparently it works well without any hue and cry and uproar.”