Towing Troubles: Some Tow Trucks in Miami Beach Breaking Rules, Not Securing Vehicles

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Some tow trucks in Miami Beach have been breaking the rules by not securing vehicles with safety chains. Jorge Herrera, Miami-Dade County Enforcement Director for Consumer Protection; City Manager Jimmy Morales; Miami Beach City Commissioner Ed Tobin; police; and an attorney for two tow truck companies who do all the towing for Miami Beach, are included in this report. Ari Odzer reports. (Published Monday, Nov 4, 2013)

    Miami Beach is a notoriously difficult place to park a car, and anyone who parks illegally, even for a few minutes, risks having his or her car towed away. You probably knew that already, but chances are you didn’t know that some tow trucks in Miami Beach have been putting you, and everyone else on the road, in danger. How? By not using safety chains to secure the vehicles they’re towing away.

    “The danger in not using safety chains is if the vehicle comes loose in any shape or form, that vehicle is basically on a free-for-all on the streets,” said Jorge Herrera, Miami-Dade County Enforcement Director for Consumer Protection.

    The Team 6 Investigators documented, on video, more than a dozen instances of unrestrained tows occurring in Miami Beach. Our cameras rolled as one after another, at all times of day, on weekends and weekdays, tow truck drivers towed vehicles away without using safety chains.

    “This is alarming, this should not be happening,” said Herrera, who watched our video. “Miami-Dade County requires for every vehicle that is in tow to be properly secured with the use of safety chains.”

    All towing in Miami Beach is done by two companies, Tremont Towing and Beach Towing, which are located next-door to each other. We showed our video to city manager Jimmy Morales, who agreed that unchained tows create a danger to the public.

    “No question about it,” said Morales. “I mean the rules are in place for a reason and that they’re not following them is a problem, it creates a safety hazard, can probably even damage the vehicle that’s being towed as well so for a lot of different reasons they should be complying with those rules.”

    Our team spent days in Miami Beach shooting video of tow trucks in action, and did not see a single instance in which a tow truck driver used the required safety chains.

    “I think there’s probably a profit motive,” said Miami Beach City Commissioner Ed Tobin, a frequent critic of the towing companies.

    Tobin thinks the towing companies don’t bother using chains because it’s an extra step, one that slows them down when they’re doing non-consent tows.

    “It seems pretty crystal that you want to do it in a hurry because if the owner comes you gotta just charge him a drop fee. You lose two-thirds of your money,” Tobin said.

    We asked an industry insider, why would a tow truck driver skip the safety chains?

    “More calls, it’s time consuming, more calls equals more money, trying to get on to the next call,” said Ramon Crego, who owns Excalibur Towing and is vice president of the Professional Wrecker Operators of Florida.

    There’s plenty of money to be made. According to the city and the Miami Beach Police Department, in the last fiscal year, Tremont and Beach Towing made a combined estimated total of $3.3 million in Miami Beach from all tows, which means those called for by the Parking Department and private, non-consent towing jobs. The companies charge an average of $245 per tow, and the city makes about $28 every time a vehicle is towed away, so in total, the city raked in roughly $405,000. It begs the question, could police be ignoring the violations intentionally?
    Commissioner Tobin, who teaches at the police academy, doesn’t think so.

    “Police officers are not looking the other way so somebody can make money, there’s no way,” Tobin said.

    Police Chief Ray Martinez, through a spokesman, declined to talk to us, but in an email, Sergeant Bobby Hernandez wrote that the Chief says, “Officers that observe tow truck drivers that are not in compliance should be stopped and cited.”

    I’ve had conversations,” City Manager Jimmy Morales said, after we alerted him to the rampant towing safety violations, “and it is something our police department should be enforcing and I’m gonna make sure that they are enforcing.”

    That message went out quickly. The day after we spoke to Morales, in a 20-minute window of time, we spotted three tow truck drivers in Miami Beach using safety chains. This after not seeing any chains used at all in all the other days the Team 6 Investigators were on the streets.

    “One of the reasons I was brought in here by the city was to help clean up, change our image, address issues of integrity and accountability, and to me this is critical, a safety issue,” Morales said. “If they’re gonna be towing in our streets, I don’t mind people making money, this is a capitalist country, but they have to do it the right way.”

    The city has no record of an instance in which a vehicle came loose from a tow truck and caused damage to property or to people.

    “The fact that it hasn’t happened yet, we’re lucky, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best to try to prevent it from happening,” Morales said.

    We asked both Tremont Towing and Beach Towing to comment for our story. They each referred us to the same attorney, Rafael Andrade, who told us neither he nor the towing companies would talk about this issue or have any other comment for our report.