Press Club

Morning Notes

A 97.1% waxing gibbous moon rises over a construction crane in Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Mask Optional Bill Heads to Governor — “As had their state Senate colleagues the preceding week, members of Arlington’s delegation to the House of Delegates were unanimous in their opposition to legislation ending mask mandates on students in Virginia’s public-education system. But the opposition did nothing to stop the bill’s momentum – the measure on Feb. 14 won final passage in the House of Delegates and is on its way to Gov. Youngkin.” [Sun Gazette]

More on Roosevelt Bridge Work — “The Roosevelt Bridge connecting Arlington and D.C. got a close-up inspection Monday after transportation officials ordered emergency road work to the bridge over the weekend. D.C. Department of Transportation Director Everett Lott said the bridge, which is 58 years old, was given a ‘poor’ rating during an inspection in 2018 and a “fair” rating in 2016. Lanes will be shut down on the bridge for as long as six months due to a rusted beam.” [NBC 4]

Homeless Shelter Moved Everyone to Motel — “Staffers at Arlington County’s largest homeless shelter for adults have spent the better part of the past two years trying to keep the coronavirus in check. They tested everyone regularly, moved any person who caught the virus into isolation. They had strict protocols, high vaccination rates among the nearly 100 homeless residents who use the facility and required that face masks be worn indoors… But then came omicron.” [Washington Post]

Preservation Bill Dead for 2022 — “Advocates of historic-preservation legislation patroned by two Northern Virginia lawmakers will have to wait until 2023 to try and win enactment. The House of Delegates Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns voted Feb. 11 to delay final consideration of legislation patroned by Del. Hope (D-Arlington) to next year.” [Sun Gazette]

Towing Accountability Bill Fails — “A measure its patron said would provide more teeth to Virginia’s statutes regulating the towing industry died a perhaps predictable death in the House of Delegates. Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington-Fairfax) had patroned legislation that would have made violations of state and local towing rules subject to the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. It also would have provided ‘meaningful civil penalties’ for towing malfeasance, the patron said in comments to a subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation.” [Sun Gazette]

Small House Fire in N. Arlington — From the Arlington County Fire Department: “This morning at approx. 0920 crews were dispatched for a reported structure fire in the 3600 BLK of N. Vermont St. Crews found a small fire with minimal extension. No injuries were reported.” [Twitter]

W-L Track Wins Championship — “For what is officially supposed to be an indoor sport, the Washington-Liberty Generals improvised quite well and won a Liberty District boys track and field championship as a result. The Generals finished first with 128 points, with the Yorktown Patriots second with 88.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Tuesday — Today will be sunny, with a high near 40. Sunrise at 6:58 a.m. and sunset at 5:46 p.m. Tomorrow will be sunny and breezy, with a high near 54. [Weather.gov]

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Advanced Towing truck (file photo)

A proposed bill, inspired by the former Virginia Attorney General’s lawsuit and case against Advanced Towing, would allow residents and localities better ability to protect themselves against bad acting towing companies.

“The Virginia code as it relates to towing is a mess. It’s all over the place,” says Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), who introduced the bill last week (Jan. 18). “My hope is to improve the towing statute and get more relief for customers harmed by the towing industry.”

Basically, HB 1218 amends the law to allow individuals and localities to pursue alleged illegal towing practices under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. As the law currently stands, the violations are solely enforceable and civil penalties can only be sought by the AG’s office.

What’s more, the law currently allows for a maximum fine for each violation of only $150, which is how Advanced Towing ended up with only a $750 fine for five violations.

By moving portions of the code to be enforced under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, it would allow for fines to be at least $500 or $1,000 per violation.

Additionally, it makes the code enforceable across the entire Commonwealth as opposed to limiting enforcement to only tows that happen in Planning District 8, which covers Northern Virginia.

Lopez, who represents a large swath of South Arlington, says he hears from constituents “regularly” about alleged predatory towing practices taking place in Arlington and across the region.

“This clarifies [the code], makes it cleaner, much more readable,” says Lopez. “There would be meaningful civil penalties that are not limited to Northern Virginia. More importantly, there could finally be individual enforcement rather than solely enforcement through the AG’s office.”

This isn’t the first time in recent years that lawmakers have attempted to help residents when it comes to towing ordinances.

This is a similar situation to the bill that Lopez introduced last year and eventually became law that allows localities to have greater say over the granting of liquor licenses.

In October, then-Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring took Arlington-based Advanced Towing to trial over alleged “predatory,” illegal, and unsafe towing practices.

A month later, a decision was handed down that lent merit to some of the AG’s office claims against Advanced Towing but not all of them. The court denied a request for a permanent injunction while issuing a fine of $750.

Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill told ARLnow in December that the decision “vindicated” his company and called the AG’s case “blackmail” and a “witch hunt.”

However, the case still has at least one more hearing since the court didn’t rule on the payment of attorney’s fees with both sides believing they are owed additional money. That hearing is currently set for March 25.

But with a new attorney general now in charge, it’s possible that the case will not be pursued any further.

O’Neill claimed to ARLnow late last year that he had spoken with the newly elected AG Jason Miyares about the case, who allegedly told the towing company owner the case was “overbearing” and would not be sought.

O’Neill’s attorney Chap Petersen (a Virginia state senator, himself) told ARLnow in an email last week that he has no intention of conceding his attorney fees since he believes the case was over-charged by the AG.

But he doesn’t believe a new AG “changes the dynamics of our case, as Judge Newman had already ruled.”

ARLnow has reached out to AG Miyares’s office multiple times to see if there’s still intent to pursue the case, if an office representative will be at the March hearing, and to confirm O’Neill’s alleged conversation with Miyares, but have yet to hear back as of publication.

Lopez tells ARLnow he thought the trial was going to have a different outcome, but is holding out hope the current AG’s office continues the case.

“I hope Attorney General Miyares would care enough about addressing this issue and take an active role in empowering individuals to use the Virginia Consumer Protection Act,” he says.

Lopez expects his bill to be referred to committee soon and is hopeful it can get bipartisan support.

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Advanced Towing’s legal troubles are not over yet, but owner John O’Neill is feeling good.

Even with the Virginia Attorney General’s office now seeking attorney fees from Advanced, in addition to the mere $750 fine imposed by an Arlington judge, O’Neill feels “vindicated” and calls the AG’s case against him “blackmail.”

On Friday morning, both sides appeared at Arlington Circuit Court in front of Judge William Newman to enter a final order in the AG’s suit. However, since the court didn’t initially rule on the payment of attorney’s fees, a final order couldn’t be agreed on due to the AG’s office insistence that it’s still owed additional money.

As expected, the defense didn’t agree, so the case will continue with another hearing. That’s likely to come in April, when Republican Jason Miyares succeeds Democrat Mark Herring as the state attorney general.

While it’s unclear at this time how much those attorney’s fees may be, O’Neill tells ARLnow he isn’t worried about it.

“Come January, there’ll be a new AG in charge who believes this case is overbearing. I’ve talked to him,” O’Neill says. “I’m very comfortable that this will not be [sought].”

It was a month ago that the court ruled for the towing company to pay a civil fine of $750 for five separate violations of trespass towing rules. Herring’s office brought the case alleging the Advanced often improperly and unsafely tows vehicles, calling the company’s practices “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.”

The three-digit fine is not the outcome the now-outgoing Attorney General was seeking.

“I am disappointed that the Court only awarded $750 in civil penalties and did not award restitution to consumers, especially the victims of Advanced’s dangerous towing practices who voluntarily testified in court to tell their story,” the outgoing Herring wrote in a statement to ARLnow last month. “Advanced Towing has employed predatory and illegal towing practices for years, costing Virginia consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and it deserves to be held accountable for its actions.”

But to O’Neill, the court’s decision was proof that his company operates legally, despite public perception to the contrary.

“I was right along. I was vindicated,” he says. “I always had authority to tow and we never made a mistake. People who got their tow parked illegally and we worked in accordance with the law.”

He calls the $650,000 sought by the AG’s Office “blackmail money” and says the whole case was a “witch hunt.”

In a conversation with ARLnow, O’Neill also took shots at the Assistant Attorney General who prosecuted the case.

“She wanted to make my life hell,” he said. “We spent the next year and a half with paperwork up our ass.”

When asked if there were lessons learned from the experience, O’Neill says that just because the government says you are guilty of something, doesn’t mean that you are.

“I didn’t accept the blackmail attempts. This was David vs. Goliath,” said O’Neill, adding that he’s still working to pay the bill for his legal defense, helmed by attorney and sitting state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax).

“We didn’t have the means to fight this case, but I protected my business and the rights of private property owners across the Commonwealth,” he said.

In terms of the violations for which the court found Advanced Towing liable — including drivers not securing safety straps on vehicles — O’Neill was dismissive and noted that this was primarily the driver’s responsibility.

Saying he “went through hell” with the trial, O’Neill believes Advanced Towing’s victory is a triumph for the entire towing industry.

“Private property owner rights were at stake,” he said. “If [the AG’s office] had won, towing companies would have been hesitant to tow cars… The entire industry is rejoicing. Now, they feel protected.”

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Advanced Towing truck in Clarendon

(Updated, 10:35 p.m.) The Arlington Circuit Court finally came to a decision in Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s lawsuit against Advanced Towing after last month’s multi-day trial.

The court has ordered the towing company, whose tactics have angered many in Arlington, to pay a civil penalty of just $750 for five separate violations. That’s a far cry from the $650,900 that the Attorney General’s office was seeking at trial.

“Although the Defendant’s conduct is sanctionable, the Court is constrained by the remedies available in both the Virginia and Arlington County Code,” wrote Judge William Newman in an opinion letter sent to both sides late Wednesday afternoon.

Additionally, the court did not issue an injunction against the towing company, writing that while there were “deficiencies” in Advanced Towing’s business practices and record keeping, the court “does not find evidence to issue a permanent injunction against Defendant.”

Chap Petersen, Advanced Towing’s attorney — as well as a Virginia state Senator — said at trial that he believed “the office of the Attorney General wants to put my client out of business.” He said the ruling largely vindicates the company and owner John O’Neill.

“While disappointed that the Court made any findings against our client, we feel vindicated in that the Court only assessed a $750 fine for the [five] found violations,” writes Petersen in a statement to ARLnow.

The court assessed one $150 civil penalty for not safely securing consumer vehicles with straps, one $150 civil penalty for not updating contract changes for a commercial parking lot in Ballston, and three $150 civil penalties for employing three drivers that were not registered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

During the trial, the AG’s office, represented by Assistant Attorney General Erin Witte, called Advanced Towing’s practices “predatory, illegal, and dangerous.” To prove this, they called up a parade of witnesses, including Arlington County police officers and drivers who had their cars towed.

The court found merit in only some of the Attorney General’s claims.

The AG’s office argued that Advanced Towing didn’t clearly mark parking spaces at the Ballston lot, near Gold’s Gym on Wilson Blvd, leaving consumers confused. However, the court ruled the spots were properly labeled and signs properly posted and, therefore, didn’t assess a civil penalty.

Additionally, the AG’s office claimed that Advanced Towing didn’t have copies of towing contracts available for public inspection. But the court ruled that the relevant contracts were available to the public and, also, didn’t assess a civil penalty for that.

“Advanced Towing has been found to have violated the law and it’s time for the company to clean up its act. I am disappointed that the Court only awarded $750 in civil penalties and did not award restitution to consumers, especially the victims of Advanced’s dangerous towing practices who voluntarily testified in court to tell their story,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wrote in a statement to ARLnow. “Advanced Towing has employed predatory and illegal towing practices for years, costing Virginia consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and it deserves to be held accountable for its actions. I am proud of the hard work my Consumer Protection Section has done on this case, and we will not stop going after bad actors who prey on Virginians just trying to go about their daily lives.”

Petersen noted that, before the trial, the Attorney General’s office offered to settle the case over the summer for $780,000 and an injunction against certain practices by the company.

“I think the difference between the AG’s offer and the Court’s decision speaks for itself,” he said.

While it remains possible that the Attorney General could appeal the ruling, Herring lost his bid for a third term last week, putting further action in the case into question.

A final decree is scheduled to be presented to both sides in court on December 10.

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Advanced Towing truck in Clarendon

A decision is expected in Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s lawsuit against Advanced Towing within the next two weeks, a judge said after the trial’s closing arguments Wednesday.

The AG’s office is seeking $650,900 in restitution and civil penalties from Advanced Towing, as well as an injunction. The defense is asking for the case to be dismissed.

Arlington County Circuit Court Chief Judge William T. Newman is presiding over the case, which pits the Commonwealth against a widely-loathed but also widely-used, Ballston-based company that tows vehicles that are considered to be trespassing on private property.

Word of the pending ruling comes after three days of arguments, with the trial starting earlier this month and concluding this week. Wednesday’s closing arguments took just over an hour combined and were intended to crystalize their positions for the judge.

The AG’s office, represented by Assistant Attorney General Erin Witte, reiterated that Advanced Towing practices were “predatory, illegal, and dangerous” while focusing on three main arguments.

First, the employment of unregistered drivers. The AG’s office alleged that more than 10,000 tows, pulled from company records, were made over the last several years by not up-to-date or unregistered tow truck drivers. All drivers are required to be registered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).

While Virginia code puts the onus on individual drivers to be registered, it also states that no tow truck operators should “violate, or assist, induce, or cooperate with others to violate, any provision of law related to the offering or delivery of towing and recovery services.”

Witte argued that Advanced Towing ran afoul of this provision by allowing drivers to tow without registration, no matter their intent. There’s also no company policy to have those registrations on file.

Then, the focus shifted to alleged unsafe towing conduct with the AG’s office citing consumer, resident, and police officer testimony of spotting (and ticketing) drivers not applying safety straps when towing. Witte also noted the “unprofessional” interactions some customers had, including testimony from one man who had his car lifted at the tow yard while he was in it.

Finally, Witte spoke about the legality of the contract and towing being done at a specific shopping center parking lot, along Wilson Blvd near Ballston. The contract wasn’t kept up to date with specifics about when Advanced Towing could tow and when, the assistant AG said. The contract also wasn’t made easily available to the public, as county code stipulates, and a revised contract was once backdated before it was provided to a customer upon their request.

Additionally, the markings on individual parking spaces were unclear, particularly night, leaving customers confused, the Commonwealth argued.

​​In conclusion, Witte said the AG’s office is seeking restitution and civil penalties to “send a message to the defense.”

“[Advanced Towing] tows as many cars as fast as possible,” Witte said. “And acted without regard for the law or safety… we need to hold the defense accountable.”

In his closing arguments, Advanced Towing’s attorney, Chap Petersen — who’s also a state senator — defended his client from these allegations.

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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s lawsuit against Advance Towing, long accused by many of predatory towing, finally went to trial this week.

During two days of arguments, the AG’s office honed in on the towing company for what they considered to to be unsafe towing practices, overstepping their authority, and allowing unregistered drivers to tow.

Saying that both the county and consumers don’t have much recourse on these matters, Assistant Attorney General Erin Witte made the point that the responsibility was on the Commonwealth to hold Advanced Towing accountable.

“If we don’t do it, it won’t happen,” she said during her opening arguments and speaking to Chief Judge William Newman.

The AG’s office is seeking an injunction to end Advanced Towing’s “illegal practices,” restitution for consumers, plus civil penalties, and attorney’s costs and fees.

While the case was initially supposed to be wrapped up within two days, Judge Newman ruled to allow it to extend to a third day for closing arguments on Oct. 20. A decision by the judge is expected shortly after that.

It was back in June 2020 when the Commonwealth of Virginia filed a lawsuit against Advanced Towing for conduct the state deemed to be “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.” However, it took 16 months of motions, requests for information, and withdrawn trial dates to get to this point.

It’s undisputed that Advanced Towing’s tactics have angered scores of drivers, unhappy with being towed, including former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry, Amazon delivery drivers, and others. One person has even set up and, for years, maintained a website dedicated to exposing alleged wrongdoing by Advanced, after his Jeep was reportedly damaged while being towed in 2016.

Advanced has argued repeatedly that it is providing a necessary service by towing vehicles that are trespassing on private parking lots. But those being towed nonetheless frequently vent frustration, often prompting calls to police over disputes at the Advanced lot in Ballston.

Sometimes it goes further. In January 2020, an Uber driver trying to drive out of the lot without paying struck owner John O’Neill at the company’s lot. During his testimony during this trial, O’Neill referred to this as his “accident” and said it has caused him severe medical issues.

The company’s attorney Chap Petersen, who is also a Virginia state Senator, acknowledged that there are a lot of people who are pretty upset with his client.

“This lawsuit isn’t about much. There were 40,000 tows in Arlington [since 2017]. That’s a lot of unhappy people, sure.” said Petersen. “But [those tows] weren’t illegal.”

But the question before the court is whether the actions of Advanced Towing are actually illegal despite the company’s assertions to the contrary.

The days-long trial examined a number of alleged bad practices of Advanced Towing, including towing of police vehicles, towing without proper authority, not properly securing vehicles while towing, the safety and professionalism of Advanced Towing employees, if contracts with property owners were properly signed and up to date, the registration status of drivers, and whether towing signage and markings were clear enough for consumers.

To make their case, the AG’s office brought a parade of witnesses to the stand. Among them were several Arlington County police officers, Advanced Towing employees, and people who have had their cars towed.

The police officers testified they had written a number of tickets over the last several years to Advanced Towing, related to improper towing due to safety straps not being applied and not securing the load properly.

Consumers spoke at length about their experiences being towed. One witness recounted having her car towed from her own co-op residence parking lot.

Although she eventually got her car back without paying a fee, she recounted how much time and stress it caused her.

“I was devastated,” she said on the witness stand.

Several witnesses spoke about the “unprofessional” interactions they had with Advanced Towing employees, including one woman who said she was aggressively accosted at the company’s tow yard, which made her feel unsafe.

While the company operates throughout Arlington County as well as in parts of Fairfax County, a lot of time was spent on their towing authority and practices related to a Wilson Blvd parking lot near Ballston that’s used by Gold’s Gym, &Pizza, and bicycle store Spokes Etc.

Local residents on the witness stand (some appearing virtually) recounted their times of running into one of these businesses, only to have their vehicles towed within minutes.

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The former Uber driver who allegedly struck Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill last year entered a plea agreement on July 23.

Gigssa Bekele Bengessa pleaded guilty to reckless driving in a parking lot and to a felony hit and run. He will face some jail time and three years of probation.

In January 2020, Bengessa attempted to drive out of the towing lot in Ballston as O’Neill was closing the gate, according to a police report from the time. Bengessa struck him, a dumpster and light pole.

Per the plea agreement, provided to ARLnow, he will be sentenced to jail for a net of 10 days — 90 days, with 80 days suspended. During the time of his suspended sentence, he will be supervised. His driver’s license will be suspended for six months.

Provided that Bengessa meets all the court’s prescriptions over the next three years, he will be able to have the felony charge knocked down to a misdemeanor, the agreement said.

Bengessa has three years to pay court costs as well as $5,516.35, plus interest, to O’Neill for restitution.

He is being required to “follow all treatment recommendations made” after a psychologist’s evaluation from March 2020, according to the plea deal, and will “undergo any further mental health evaluations deemed appropriate” by his probation officer.

Further, Bengessa will be “prohibited from driving or operating any and all rideshare vehicles, including but not limited to: Uber, Lyft, taxi service, or any vehicle for hire,” the plea deal said.

The agreement comes as the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, is preparing to go to trial in a lawsuit against Advanced Towing. The suit was filed in June 2020 and a trial date is scheduled for Oct. 6 of this year.

Herring’s complaint alleges that Advanced Towing has violated state and 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,” Herring said in a statement last year. “My team and I will continue to hold towing companies and bad actors accountable when they break the law and take advantage of consumers.”

This is not the first time such an accusation has been leveled against the company. Advanced, 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.

The company gained national notoriety in 2015 after video emerged of an ESPN reporter, whose car was towed, berating an Advanced employee.

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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.

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(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.”

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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.

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