I-Team: Car theft victims still pay to get vehicle from Toledo tow lot

Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 11:26 AM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - It’s a helpless feeling. You try to get into your vehicle and it’s gone.

You’re a car theft victim. There are a million things to do next. But what you may not realize is it might cost you money to get that car back.

Why is that the case? The 13abc I-Team is looking into what happens if your car ends up in Toledo’s tow lot.

Few people even know where the tow lot is and it’s probably only because you’ve had a vehicle there. More than 13,000 were towed there last year alone. In the last few months, viewers have been asking questions about how it operates and whether or not crime victims are being hit with a fee they don’t deserve.

The Toledo Police tow lot is full of vehicles there for numerous reasons. Maybe a drunk driver, expired plates or no plates at all. Scattered throughout are stolen vehicles. All sitting there after Toledo Police could not connect with the rightful owner after it was located.

“On paper we’ll give them 30 minutes. If they can come to that crew within 30 minutes we will give them back their car. There is some leeway. We understand people are working, people have jobs,” said Toledo Police spokesman Officer Andrew Dlugosielski.

If towed there, the clock starts and the fees begin. The tow fee itself is $160. Then comes the daily storage fee of $20. A total bill of $500 came to Tiffany Lawrence after her car was stolen earlier this year.

“Why am I paying for something that I had nothing to do with or control over?” said Lawrence.

Eventually many of the storage fees were dropped but her biggest issue, and the issue of many 13abc viewers, was this: Why is a crime victim paying anything to get their own stuff back?

Toledo Police have no blanket policy saying crime victims get their vehicle back for free.

“It’s a case by case basis,” said Dlugosielski.

You may rack up daily storage fees as your car sits there if it’s part of an investigation.

“If the car had a holder on it, say for an investigation, say it was involved in a maybe more larger crime it’s going to be in our tow lot for a while and then there are going to be more storage fees. We generally work with the victim on that to wave some if not all of the storage fees. It’s not their fault they were a victim of a crime. It’s not their fault that we needed time to process the car,” said Dlugosielski.

Lawrence told 13abc she was notified five days after her car was ready to be picked up. Waiving storage fees is not automatic. The I-Team asked if it’s up to the discretion of the officer on whether or not to waive the fee.

“Generally whatever detective is working that case. If a car is going to have a holder on it, it’s going to be a detective who puts a holder on it. The detectives are always very good, in constant contact with the victims of this. The detective will often reach to the tow lot and say ‘Hey I’d like to waive these storage fees for this person because you know it’s not their fault the car was there that long.’” said Dlugosielski.

The department will not waive the actual tow fee. That’s in part, according to Toledo Police, because the private tow truck drivers get $100 of the $160 fee.

Last year, storage fees at the tow lot were over $1.2 million. Tow fees collected by the city were around $973,000, the highest amount in the last four years. Those dollars go to the city’s general fund.

Other Ohio cities have a policy on the books to lower fees for crime victims but many of the victims still pay.

In Cleveland, if you’re arrested, the tow fee is $175, non arrests like parking are $125 with a daily storage fee of $30. But if you’re a car theft victim tow fees are reduced to $50 and storage fees start $9.72 for the first five days.

Cleveland officials say if the car owner is the victim of a violent crime, the investigating detective will approve a “no charge release.”

In Columbus, city code says any recovered and impounded stolen vehicle will see a $55 impound fee and storage fees don’t start until the fourth day of impounding. Normal towing fees there are $125 dollars and storage fees are $18 a day.

Your car insurance policy can be used to be reimburse you towing and storage fee but you need to have the right kind of policy. You will be covered if you have a comprehensive plan but you won’t be reimbursed if you only have liability coverage which is the basic policy you need to be legal.

This isn’t the end of the story.

“Being the victim of a crime should never cost someone money,” said State Representative Josh Williams.

Something might be on the way to Columbus that could make sure crime victims are not paying. See what that could look like Thursday night on Action News at 11.

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