CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A series of FOX 46 investigations is getting results, and the attention of at least a half dozen state lawmakers, who are now looking at ways to protect truckers from “predatory” towing companies.
“It was like extortion,” said Cynthia Baker, who had to pay $5000 when her driver’s truck was towed. “You know, I mean, it was like highway robbery, a scam in the middle of the night.”
More than a dozen truckers reached out to FOX 46, accusing towing companies of “sneaking up” and booting their trucks while they were still inside, then demanding thousands of dollars to remove it.
“I just don’t understand why they would want to take advantage of truckers at a time like this,” said LaJuan Monroe, who said he had to pay $4000 when his truck was towed.
The complaints come at a time when truckers are keeping our stores stocked and critical supplies moving. They are so essential, President Donald Trump honored them at a White House ceremony last week.
“At a time of widespread shutdowns, truck drivers form the lifeblood of our economy,” Trump said. “And for days, and sometimes weeks on end, truck drivers leave their homes and deliver supplies that American families need and count on during this national crisis.”
“Thank God for truckers,” the president added.
A resolution was also introduced in Congress praising the heroism of essential workers, including truck drivers. However, in the Queen City, truckers say they are being “targeted” for profit by overly aggressive towing companies.
FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant has been working to get results. So far, he has been able to get $6000 refunded back to truckers. Now, several state lawmakers tell us they are concerned and looking into what we uncovered.
“It’s a travesty,” said Rep. Wesley Harris (D-Meckenburg County). “This shouldn’t be happening, particularly right now.”
Harris says he wants to look into the issue to see if legislation could help.
“This is definitely something I think we should look into,” said Harris. “Just to see, you know, exactly what the legal basis for these actions are. And if there happens to be a gap in the law, then I think that’s something we need to take a hard look at and see if we can fix that.”
“It’s certainly an issue that we need to look into a little bit more,” Harris added. “Just to see exactly what the laws are and if there are ways, if there are avenues, legislatively, that we can go in and hopefully remedy this problem.”
Towing companies have generally responded by saying they follow the law. They blame truckers for not obeying posted warning signs.
Rep. Rachel Hunt (D-Mecklenburg County) says she also wants to look into this issue.
“We will be going into session next week,” Hunt said in an email, “and I want to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to build more protections for our essential workers, including the truckers who are working nonstop to deliver food and medical supplies North Carolinians need to get through this Pandemic.”
Officials with the American Trucking Associations, which represents more than 37,000 truckers nationwide, and attended the White House ceremony, say they are “dismayed” at reports of truckers being targeted by “unscrupulous” towing companies in Charlotte.
“The trucking industry has been victimized by predatory towing companies since well before the outbreak of COVID-19,” said ATA spokesman Sean McNally. “And at a time when the country is rallying around essential workers like truck drivers we are dismayed that these unscrupulous actors would continue to prey upon our industry.”
Harris says he wasn’t aware of this issue until FOX 46 brought it to his attention.
“Thank you for reporting on this issue,” said Harris. “It’s the first I’ve heard of it so it’s going to allow me to really look into it to see if there’s anything we can do.”
That would be a relief to truckers, whose job is already hard enough without the added worry of going into debt for parking in the wrong place.
The North Carolina Attorney General’s office has received 11 trucking-related complaints. All are in the Charlotte area.
In 2014, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled municipalities cannot cap how much tow companies can charge. Lawmakers are now looking into what, if anything, can be done.
Rep. Christy Clark, a Huntersville Democrat, says the General Assembly should consider making it illegal for towing companies to target truckers during a state of emergency.
“Predatory towing practices are a burden on communities under normal circumstances,” said Clark. “While our county is [in] desperate need of supplies and emergency equipment, towing companies should not be allowed to take advantage of the situation. I am relieved that Attorney General Josh Stein is investigating this unethical practice. Legislation preventing towing companies from using a state of emergency to bolster their bottom line is something the General Assembly should consider.”