Car theft victim desperately tries to avoid ‘re-victimizing’ towing company fees

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An Albuquerque man who had a car stolen in the past thought he knew exactly what to do to avoid shelling out money to a towing company when another one of his vehicles was stolen last week.

Donnie Frank’s Honda was stolen out of his driveway on Tuesday of last week. He called the Albuquerque Police Department and an officer came out and took a report.

Last time his car was stolen, he had to pay the towing company that recovered it in what felt like re-victimization. Frank wanted to avoid that this time.

“I gave [the officer] my cell number, I told her I would have it with me, to call me,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s 4 o’clock in the morning, call me when you find my car, I will come and get it, anytime, day or night.”

But when his car was found the following Thursday, that didn’t happen.

The car was illegally parked at an apartment complex on private property, not too far from Frank’s home in the Heights. The complex called ACME Towing who came and got the car, took it to its South Valley yard, then called police to see if it was stolen, per law.

Five days later, Frank got a certified letter in the mail from ACME that they had his car.

By the time he got to ACME, he had to pay $318 in towing, storage and mileage fees.

“I understand that auto theft is a for-profit business for the thief, but it shouldn’t be a profitable business for a towing company,” he said.

KRQE News 13 called ACME whose owner explained the way they operate. Mark McNeil said the towing and storage rates are set by the Public Regulation Commission.

McNeil also said he agrees that the system is not fair for the victims of auto theft, which is so rampant in Albuquerque.

As to why ACME doesn’t call police before towing a car suspected of being stolen, McNeil said his tow operators don’t have time to wait on APD for an answer, which could take a while given how busy police are.

McNeil also said towing companies don’t have access to the NCIC database, where stolen vehicle and owner information is entered. For that reason, towing companies can’t lookup phone numbers without NCIC access. Towing companies can only see addresses linked to VIN numbers through the MVD.

APD spokesman Fred Duran told KRQE News 13 had Frank’s car been found on public property, officers would have called Frank immediately to try and get the car back to him.

Duran said the protocol is that officers call the owner, leave a message if no one picks up, wait 10 minutes and call again in a second attempt. If no one answers or calls back quickly, then APD will call a tow company to take the car away.

At that point, the responsibility to notify the owner via certified mail falls on the tow company.

This issue of re-victimization has been raised in the state legislature at least twice over the last few years by Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino of Albuquerque, who has asked for studies to be conducted on how much victims are dishing out to get their cars back.

“It really shouldn’t be the victims who have to pay for this,” Ortiz y Pino said in 2016.

“It’s like a double whammy,” Frank said of his situation.

He believes the state should figure out how to keep auto theft victims from being re-victimized, possibly by requiring the towing companies to call police and wait for an answer on whether a car is stolen before taking it and making money off of it.

Insurance will cover the towing company fees if it’s a comprehensive plan. However, there’s still a deductible.

In this case, Frank only has basic liability.

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