(Updated at 8:50 a.m. on 11/17/22) Arlington County is looking to the state legislature to help with some key priorities, including combating malicious 911 calls and predatory towing.
These are two of many issues that the county intends to have local legislators lobby for in the upcoming 2023 Virginia General Assembly session, which runs for 45 days beginning on Jan. 11, 2023.
The county’s legislative priorities address public safety, energy, transportation, criminal justice reform, affordable housing and mental health, among other things. The list of priorities was drafted with input from local commissions, advisory groups, county staff, the County Board and community members.
On Saturday, Ilana Creinin, the legislative liaison for Arlington County, told the County Board that “swatting,” or fake calls to emergency services with the intent to draw out a police response, are on the rise, and the county would support legislation that would combat it. Recent examples include a false active shooter call at Washington-Liberty High School in September and a false report of a shooting inside a home in October.
“We want to make sure we’re able to combat the act of making a hoax communication to 911,” Creinin said. “We’ve seen in some of our schools there’s been an uptick in instances of people calling in false communications.”
A county report outlining the priorities did not say what kind of legislation it would support.
Meanwhile, Arlington County is looking to support legislation that provides parity for Northern Virginia, compared with the rest of the state, when pursuing litigation against towing companies through the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.
County Board member Takis Karantonis said he is “very happy” to “see push for consumer protection against predatory towing in our region.”
Del. Alfonso Lopez supported a bill last year, which failed, that would have given residents and localities more ability to protect themselves against bad-actor towing companies. The bill responded to public scrutiny of Ballston-based Advanced Towing, which is frequently accused of unsafe and predatory towing practices, though such accusations fizzled in court after the previous state Attorney General sued the company.
One legislative priority carried over from last year would address the state mental health crisis caused by a workforce shortage and a lack of beds in state-run mental hospitals.
With fewer staff to run them, the Commonwealth closed more than half of these hospitals to new admissions, overwhelming local hospitals and the Arlington County Police Department and driving fatigued county clinicians and Arlington police officers to quit.
“As you know, we’re still going through a large mental health crisis in our state with both staffing shortages and also a lack of state hospital beds,” said Creinin. “We want to work toward solving this crisis.”
Others respond to actions taken or proposed by the Republican-controlled state house or the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-Va.).
Citing an “ongoing issue,” Arlington County has ticketed Advanced Towing multiple times in recent weeks for blocking “the most famous fire hydrant in Arlington County.”
Trucks from the Ballston-based towing company have received multiple tickets, including one as recently as last week, for parking and blocking a fire hydrant near the corner of 5th Road N. and N. Quincy Street, a county official has confirmed to ARLnow. They were not able to provide the exact number of tickets, however.
That particular hydrant, dubbed “the most famous fire hydrant in Arlington County” by former local news reporter Dave Statter, is in the alleyway next to the company’s lot. A Twitter account is devoted to documenting illegal parking in front of the hydrant.
The county says that they have “received social media complaints and emails from an anonymous account holder” about the issue.
— Matthew Young (@matthewyoung31) October 29, 2022
On Saturday afternoon, the fire marshal was sent to talk with Advanced Towing about the “ongoing issue,” per scanner audio posted on social media by Statter.
— Dave Statter (@STATter911) October 29, 2022
The result of the ensuing conversation between the fire marshal and Advanced Towing appears to have rectified the problem for now. A spokesperson for Advanced Towing tells ARLnow via email that they’ve stopped parking in front of that hydrant.
However, the company also argued that the fire hydrant is inactive, on their property, and other cars are parking illegally in the alleyway but are not being ticketed.
“I feel the tow trucks are the only ones with attention, tickets and complaints when the entire area is constantly full of illegally parked vehicles because there’s is no parking,” the spokesperson said, while also providing photos of supposedly illegally parked cars. “No tickets have been issued.”
County spokesperson Ben Aiken did confirm that the specific hydrant is “redundant for fire purposes” with another hydrant only a few feet away, but did say it is operational and maintained “for other reasons as part of the water system.” There are also no plans to remove it.
The issue of Advanced Towing trucks parking in front of that particular hydrant apparently has been ongoing since at least 2017 per Twitter user Advanced Towing Fire Hydrant.
— Advanced Towing Fire Hydrant (@AdvTowHydrant) November 3, 2022
While the company says the hydrant is on their property, the county noted that doesn’t give Advanced Towing — or any property owner — the right to park in front of a hydrant.
“The hydrant is located within 5th Rd. North right-of-way and parking is restricted within 15 feet of a fire hydrant,” Aiken wrote in an email.
Advanced Towing also complained about the lack of parking in the area, leaving their trucks often struggling to find spots near their lot, where vehicles towed for trespassing on private property are stored (and scene of a famous incident involving a television personality).
The company cited the move from free street parking to metered spots as well as the presence of the county-owned Mosaic Park as two main reasons for why parking is hard to come by in that corridor.
“This causes huge congestion on 5th Road and surrounding areas, therefore cars are parked illegally all day long. We will also be reporting every illegally parked vehicle we see,” they said via email. “This morning alone, there were 6 at one time, and not one was ticketed.”
Last week we reported on a call to police made after an Amazon delivery van was towed. This week, another commercial vehicle tow led to another police response.
Advanced Towing — the Ballston-based trespass tow company with a reputation for being prolific or predatory, depending on your perspective — is at the center of both.
This time around, police were dispatched to the tow lot on 5th Road N. for a report of an alarming incident: a Dominion power crew supposedly had a vehicle towed during emergency repair work. A short time later, several police units could be seen at the lot, talking with the crew.
Arlington’s towing ordinance specifies that public safety vehicles and vehicles responding to an emergency are not to be towed, even if parked on private property.
But is seems that the reality did not quite match the initial report. First, it was a utility contractor’s pickup truck that was towed, not a Dominion-owned vehicle, as seen in the photos above. On top of that, police said the incident was soon cleared by responding officers.
“At approximately 12:35 p.m., police were dispatched to the 4000 block of 5th Road N. for the report of a dispute,” said Arlington County police spokeswoman Ashley Savage. “Upon arrival, it was determined the dispute was related to a vehicle tow from private property. The incident was determined to be non-criminal and the scene was cleared by responding officers.”
Advanced Towing asserted in a brief statement that the vehicle that was towed was parked on private property for non-emergency work across the street.
“This was a construction crew, and not an emergency crew, with several vehicles parked illegally on private property, while doing work across the street,” the company told ARLnow. “They were not working on the property they parked at. Contractors cannot violate someone’s private property rights, especially to do work and a completely different property.”
The exact details could not be independently confirmed and it’s unclear from which property the vehicle was towed, but the circumstances are not unlike last week’s Amazon tow. Initially, police were told that the van had been stolen, but they later determined that it had been towed from private property; Advanced said the van was parked in a fire lane.
And these were not the only commercial tows to catch the attention of locals over the past week or so. On Twitter yesterday, a user noted a locksmith’s van being towed near the Pentagon City mall.
— CartChaos22202 (@CartChaos22202) August 23, 2022
Police are frequently called to the Advanced lot, but not just for commercial vehicle tows.
Advanced’s poor reputation mostly comes from its towing of private vehicles. The speed with which such tows occur have, along with other factors, at times enraged vehicle owners to the point that police are called for reports of heated disputes at the lot.
In 2020, a rideshare driver become so irate that he struck Advanced owner John O’Neill with his car, injuring O’Neill and also reportedly striking another vehicle before running into a utility pole. That driver pleaded guilty to reckless driving and a felony hit and run last August.
It raises a question: should delivery drivers get special treatment and a blind eye turned to violating a given property owner’s parking rules, or should the rules apply to them too?
Fire lanes are there for a reason, but the flip side of the argument is that delivery drivers have a tough job to do and only stay in one place for a brief period of time, making it less likely that they’ll end up getting in the way of something important.
So what do you think? For the purposes of this poll, we’ll set aside the issue of delivery drivers blocking lanes on public streets and instead focus on those on private property.
An Amazon delivery van was reported stolen yesterday near Ballston. Except it wasn’t stolen. It was towed.
The tow pits two Arlington institutions against each other — infamous local towing company Advanced Towing and, in the other corner, newer arrival Amazon. It also raises a general policy question: should delivery vehicles parked improperly on private property get towed?
The incident happened around 2 p.m. yesterday at a residential complex in the Buckingham neighborhood.
“At approximately 2:01 p.m. on August 16, police were dispatched to the 4300 block of 4th Street N. for the report of a stolen delivery vehicle,” Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. “Prior to officers arriving on scene, dispatch advised the vehicle had been towed from private property. Officers were then placed back into service.”
Soon thereafter, the van could be seen impounded in the Advanced Towing lot in Ballston.
Advanced says that the van was towed because it was parked in a fire lane on private property, and that the company tows regardless of whether the driver is making deliveries.
“The Amazon driver left their delivery vehicle unattended in a fire lane/no parking zone, rather than park in one of the open spaces,” the company said in a brief statement to ARLnow. “Amazon vehicles are not exempt from following the law or rules of someone’s private property.”
Signs at the address police were dispatched to do, in fact, explicitly state “No Parking — Fire Lane” and “Towed at Owner’s Expense,” though the exact location the van was parked prior to being towed is unclear.
ARLnow reached out to Amazon for comment but has not received answers to our questions as of publication.
This is not the first time Advanced has towed an Amazon van. ARLnow reported on a delivery van towed from an apartment parking lot in Falls Church in 2019.
Asked about delivery vans being towed and local towing policies, Savage referred readers to the county website.
“You can find information regarding private tows, also known as trespass tows, from private property on the County website and in County Code § 14.3-5. Removal of Trespassing Vehicles,” she wrote. “If a vehicle owner believes their vehicle was towed in error, they can report to Arlington County Police for investigation by submitting an online complaint or calling 703-228-4266.”
Advanced has long maintained that its local notoriety is the result of its efficiency in properly towing vehicles that are improperly parked and thus trespassing on private property. A lawsuit brought by former Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring for alleged predatory towing practices only resulted in a $750 fine — which owner John O’Neill touted as vindication.
The towing company also won some recent plaudits for a driver’s actions to help a man threatening to jump from an overpass.
ARLnow’s photographer, meanwhile, spotted another Amazon van getting away with some improper parking just steps from where the other van was towed. While looking for the original towing scene, we snapped an Amazon van parked on the private drive of the 4300 block of 4th Court N.
“Private street — no parking in alley — towing at owner’s expense,” read a sign at the entrance to the driveway. It was placed by Advanced’s competitor, A-1 Towing.
(Updated at 1:50 p.m.) A tow truck driver helped to defuse a tense situation in Crystal City yesterday (Wednesday) morning.
Police were dispatched to the area for a man standing on the edge of a Route 1 overpass. It was unclear why the man was standing there, but there was concern that he might jump to the roadway below.
Video shared with ARLnow, below, shows the shirtless man gesticulating wildly while standing above 15th Street S. A police source told ARLnow that a driver with Advanced Towing stopped and “talked this guy down.”
Reached via email, Advanced owner John O’Neill confirmed the report.
“One of my drivers… noticed a man [who] walked out on an overpass,” he said. “Ryan called 911 but approached the man and talked him into not doing anything dumb.”
Police were later able to catch up with the man and get him help. A police spokeswoman described the incident as a “mental health call for service.”
“At approximately 9:26 a.m. on June 29, an off-duty officer observed a man walking along northbound Richmond Highway,” Arlington County Police Department Public Information Officer Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. “Additional calls to the Emergency Communications Center stated the man was standing near the edge of the overpass in the area of 15th St. S. and S. Eads St. The individual subsequently left the area and was located by responding officers in the Crystal City Shops.”
Advanced Towing is arguably the most frequently criticized local business in Arlington, earning the ire of locals for its ruthless efficiency in towing unauthorized vehicles in private parking lots (and, occasionally — allegedly — damaging vehicles in the process). An incident with then-ESPN reporter Britt McHenry made national news and there’s even a website devoted to calling the company a “fraud.”
A lawsuit by former Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called Advanced “predatory” and accused it of “illegal” tows. O’Neill later told ARLnow that he felt “vindicated” when the case only resulted in a $750 fine, asserting that Advanced only tows vehicles that are parked illegally.
O’Neill said Wednesday’s incident shows that Advanced’s reputation does not match its true character.
“We are always cast in a negative light but if my driver had not been doing his job this man may have hurt himself,” he said. “I’m really proud of my employee for intervening.”
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911 or the Arlington Dept. of Human Services’ emergency services line at 703-228-5160. CrisisLink also has a 24-hour crisis hotline at 703-527-4077 or 800-SUICIDE, or via text at 703-940-0888.
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]
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.