An Arlington high school student who had gone missing over the weekend was reunited with his family — after his stepmom says a tow truck driver spotted him.
Brandon, a Washington-Liberty High School student, was last seen Friday morning. His mom, who lives in Arlington, notified his dad and stepmother, Phil and Tiffany Pierce, of Stafford, the next day.
Tiffany tells ARLnow she and Phil began “walking and driving around Arlington, day in and out, looking for Brandon… and working with the police.”
Police posted missing notices on social media, where the post was shared several hundred times. Tiffany also took to Facebook Sunday to post about her missing stepson and urged people to be on the lookout for him.
The Facebook posts were seen by Ryan O’Neill, a tow truck driver with Advanced Towing, who made headlines last year after helping to talk a man down from the edge of a Route 1 overpass.
Tiffany received a call from O’Neill around 4 p.m. yesterday (Monday), in which he said he spotted Brandon in Ballston and caught up to him.
O’Neill struck up a conversation with Brandon until Tiffany and Phil arrived, about 10 minutes later.
“Once I got there and we were reunited with Brandon, I called Brandon’s mom and the police, they met us in the Wells Fargo parking lot and we now have Brandon home with us,” Tiffany said. “We are forever grateful for Ryan for helping us bring Brandon home safe.”
In a statement, ACPD confirmed that Brandon was found yesterday. Police were dispatched around 3:40 p.m. to the 1000 block of N. Stafford Street for a report of a found missing juvenile.
“Upon arrival, it was determined family members had observed the juvenile walking in the area,” spokeswoman Alli Shorb said. “Responding officers made contact with the juvenile, confirmed his wellbeing and he was released to the custody of a guardian.”
She said family members reported observing the missing juvenile and noted that ACPD does not have additional details about whether a tow truck operator was involved.
Advanced Towing owner John O’Neill, the adoptive father of Ryan, confirmed the event.
“Ryan is constantly helping out the public,” John said, adding that he “pays attention and is all over Arlington.”
He cited the Crystal City overpass incident and the discovery of the missing teen as examples of how Advanced Towing is “helping out the community.”
That’s in contrast with Advanced’s more common perception as a “predatory” tow company, which has led to an unsuccessful lawsuit and repeated attempts at passing towing-related consumer protections. Advanced was also recently in the news for a driver who towed a car with children inside and, just yesterday, for a citation issued to a tow driver for an alleged unsafe tow.
The Advanced driver who towed the car with children inside earlier this month was not cited. The woman who allegedly left the children to go into a mall is, however, facing charges.
(Updated at 5 p.m.) A Falls Church man is facing charges and a tow truck driver is facing a traffic citation after an incident Sunday evening in Ballston.
It happened around 5:30 p.m. in front of the Advanced Towing lot on the 4000 block of 5th Road N.
An officer was conducting a traffic stop of a tow truck, according to today’s Arlington County police crime report, “when the suspect, who is the owner of the towed vehicle, arrived at the location and began acting disorderly.”
“When an additional officer arrived on scene and began to converse with the suspect, he allegedly lunged at the officer,” the crime report says. “The officer then attempted to detain the suspect, during which he shoved the officer before fleeing the scene on foot. Officers initiated a foot pursuit and took the suspect into custody.”
The suspect, a 25-year-old Falls Church resident, “was arrested and charged with Assault on Police, Disorderly Conduct and Public Intoxication.”
The tow truck driver was cited for “a vehicle being towed without being properly secured to the tow truck,” said ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage.
Minutes before the incident, police were dispatched to the nearby Ballston Quarter mall for a report of a driver who parked his running car in front of the Ted’s Bulletin on Wilson Blvd to pick up food and came back to find it potentially stolen. Savage told ARLnow that call was not related to the tow truck incident.
Advanced Towing was back in the news earlier this month after ARLnow was the first to report that one of its drivers towed a car with two young children inside from in front of the Pentagon City mall.
A Maryland woman was cited by police after her car was towed, unknowingly with two young children inside.
Arlington County police were called shortly after 11 a.m. today (Tuesday) by a distraught woman reporting that her car was stolen from outside the Macy’s in Pentagon City. A one-year-old and a three-year-old were inside the vehicle, the woman reported.
“At approximately 11:10 a.m. on September 5, police were dispatched to the 1100 block of S. Hayes Street for the report of a stolen vehicle with two children inside,” police spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. “While officers were responding to the call, it was determined the vehicle had been reported as towed for being parked in a no parking zone.”
The car had been towed by Advanced Towing and was back at their lot in Ballston, a dispatcher told officers, who then responded to the lot.
“The preliminary investigation indicates the tow operator was unaware the children were inside and upon notification, pulled over to check on them,” Savage said. “Responding officers then made contact with the children and determined they were in good health.”
The 26-year-old driver of the car that was towed “was charged with Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor and released on a summons,” Savage added. “The investigation into the incident is ongoing.”
ARLnow was on scene as the woman arrived in a police cruiser and was reunited with the children within the tow lot.
An Advanced Towing spokeswoman confirmed to ARLnow that the vehicle was towed while the engine was still running, so the air conditioning was still on in the car as temperatures reached into the 90s. Her towing fee was waived, the spokeswoman said.
John O’Neill, owner of the towing company, told ARLnow that the driver looked into the car but did not see the children. They were in their car seats in the backseat of the Hyundai crossover-style vehicle, ARLnow observed through the tow company’s fence, after a police officer had opened a rear door.
“I looked at the driver’s pictures before towing you cannot see those kids in the car at all,” O’Neill said. He claimed the vehicle was left unattended for 16 minutes in a tow-away zone outside the Pentagon City mall.
“We see this all the time,” O’Neill said. “She didn’t want to be inconvenienced to take the kids out to go into the mall and left them unattended in the fire lane.”
The normal procedure when a driver sees children in an unattended vehicle, he said, is to “call the police and we wait.”
In 2021, a lawsuit by Virginia’s then-Attorney General resulted in a fine levied by an Arlington judge — though the suit was largely unsuccessful and O’Neill claimed vindication. Last month, Arlington County began enforcing zoning rules related to Advanced’s tow lot, following a campaign by a local Twitter user.
(Updated at 8:45 a.m. on 7/4/23) Arlington County says it is enforcing some wayward fencing and gates in a public alley abutting Advanced Towing and American Service Center.
It all started because of complaints about tow trucks for the Ballston company parking in front of “the most famous fire hydrant in Arlington County,” so named by public safety watchdog Dave Statter.
Over the last year, an anonymous Twitter account dedicated to the hydrant has made Freedom of Information Act requests to ascertain the alley’s ownership and highlight the county’s responsibility for overseeing how it is used. This inquiry sparked several complaints about illegal parking last fall.
This week, the information requests unearthed an update: the county said it owns the 5th Road N. alley, off N. Quincy Street in Ballston. It said it is working with Advanced Towing to remove a fence and American Service Center, which operates the Mercedes-Benz dealership, to remove the gates.
The owner of the “Advanced Towing Fire Hydrant” Twitter account, says highlighting the zoning code issues was not because of an ax to grind with the towing company. Instead, it was to highlight the degree to which enforcement decisions lie with the Office of the County Manager.
“You shouldn’t have to crowdsource outrage on Twitter to get the government to enforce existing parking regulations,” the account owner, who wants to remain anonymous, told ARLnow.
— Advanced Towing Fire Hydrant (@AdvTowHydrant) July 31, 2023
In a statement, county spokesman Ryan Hudson confirmed the enforcement would begin and traced the move back to citizen complaints.
“Zoning started enforcement due to the fact that these two businesses are encroaching on public land,” he says. “The genesis was a complaint about illegally parked cars in front of the fire hydrant. That led us to become aware the fence didn’t meet the clearance of 3 feet and didn’t have Zoning approval.”
The fire hydrant account posted about the wayward fence earlier this year.
What happened here? @ArlingtonVA @ArlingtonDES. @ArlingtonVaFD don't forget the closest working fire hydrant is still blocked by the #advancedtowing fence. It might be a good time to stop ignoring the issue. pic.twitter.com/H1GINjpmFj
— Advanced Towing Fire Hydrant (@AdvTowHydrant) February 17, 2023
A spokesperson for Advanced Towing confirmed the company is complying with the request.
“We have been in touch with the County and our fence will be open tomorrow,” an Advanced Towing spokesperson said in an email, adding that the company never put the fence up and it has been there for well over 20 years.
Arlington County approved a certificate of occupancy for the tow company but that did not amount to permission to occupy the alley, according to a copy provided to the Advanced Towing Fire Hydrant Twitter account.
While the company can occupy the alley, Hudson says the fence has to be moved back because it is encroaching into a 10-foot wide public alley. Fences on private property are allowed with proper approval — just not in a public alleyway.
“The County, not adjacent property owners or tenants, will determine how to operate and maintain the public alley,” the county spokesman said.
The alley adjacent to the American Service Center property, meanwhile, is a public alley not owned by the auto repair company.
“Gates need to remain open because they are obstructing public use of and access to the public alley,” Hudson said.
A spokeswoman for American Service Center told ARLnow she was directed “not to discuss anything with anyone.”
Arlington County police responded to an unusual incident on Route 50 this afternoon.
It happened around 1 p.m. at the intersection with Park Drive, near the Arlington Forest Shopping Center and the Outback Steakhouse.
Multiple 911 callers said the driver of a flatbed AAA tow truck parked in the travel lanes, got out, started dancing and “acting erratically.” Callers told police they were concerned for the driver’s welfare.
A traffic camera viewed by ARLnow showed the tow truck stopped in a middle eastbound lane as traffic drove by. The truck driver then drove off just before police arrived on scene.
The tow truck was not found after an initial search of the area. It is unclear whether the driver’s actions constitute anything more than a traffic infraction.
With split control of the General Assembly, Republicans of the House of Delegates and Democrats of the Senate, it’s unclear how many bills introduced by Arlington’s all-Democratic representation will pass.
Still, some priorities appear to have a measure of bipartisan support, including SB 1096 (from Sen. Adam Ebbin) permitting marriage between two people regardless of sex while protecting the right of religious clergy to decline presiding over same-sex marriages.
Here are some of the bills that were pre-filed ahead of this session.
Arlingtonians could get relief from noisy cars and predatory towing.
- SB 1085 (Ebbin): Prohibits the sale and use of aftermarket mufflers. This follows up on a change in law last year reversing a 2021 law that prevented officers from pulling over drivers just for having an excessively loud exhaust system. The original law was intended to reduce pretextual traffic stops and racial disparities but might have contributed to an uptick in noise complaints those living along highways and busy roads.
- HB 2062 (Del. Alfonso Lopez) and SB 790 (Sen. Barbara Favola): Reprises a failed 2022 bill that would make violations of existing towing law subject to the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. Under this act, predatory towing could receive heftier civil penalties than the $150 fine currently codified. Tackling predatory towing was a 2023 Arlington County Board legislative priority.
In addition to Ebbin’s same-sex marriage bill, a few others pertain to family life, health and privacy.
- SB 1324 (Ebbin): Gives parents who make less than $100,000 a $500 child tax credit for 2023-2027.
- SB 852 (Favola): Protects menstrual data stored on computers, computer networks or other devices — like phone period tracking applications — from being subject to search warrants. This likely responds to a Republican bill to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks except in the case of rape or incest or if the pregnancy endangers the life or “major bodily functions” of the mother.
- HB 1879 (Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker): Requires each managed care health insurance plan licensee to provide a sufficient number and mix of services, specialists and practice sites to meet mental health care needs 24/7.
A number of gun control bills would curtail who can own a gun and who can assume possession of those owned by people who have committed a crime, while tackling the proliferation of “ghost guns.”
- HB 1729 (Bennett-Parker) and SB 909 (Favola): Requires people to be at least 21 years old and to live under a different roof in order to accept guns from someone legally required to surrender them for being convicted of assaulting a family member or being under a protective order.
- HB 1579 (Del. Rip Sullivan): Prevents people from buying or transporting firearms if they have two convictions in five years for operating a car or boat while drunk.
- SB 1181 (Ebbin): Makes it a misdemeanor for anyone who is not a federal firearms importer, manufacturer or dealer to knowingly sell, offer to sell, transfer or purchase unfinished firearms that do not have serial numbers. These can be purchased online and used to build untraceable firearms, known as “ghost guns.”
- SB 1192 (Ebbin): Prohibits certain semi-automatic guns — loaded or not — in any public right-of-way or publicly accessible natural area.
(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.