Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Carmel on the Case: Tow Troubles
Tonight, the mayor of Sunrise says he is furious, because hundreds of cars were towed from businesses around the Sawgrass Mills Mall on Black Friday. He wants answers, and so does the police department. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is on the case with the exclusive.
WSVN -- By all accounts, Black Friday was a big success.
But not for some shoppers at Sawgrass Mills Mall, who parked in the lots of businesses that circle the road around the mall.
More than 300 vehicles were towed starting Thanksgiving night, and some shoppers think they got taken for a ride.
Brianna Rhue, Towed Shopper: "I thought I had been taken advantage of in a Black Friday situation."
Brianna Rhue says it was 11:30 Thanksgiving night when she and a friend parked in the lot of a closed restaurant.
Other businesses nearby had their lots blocked off, so since this one was open, they thought it would be OK to park there.
Brianna Rhue: "And we went into the mall and came back out about two and a half hours later to an empty parking lot with people sitting on the curb with their shopping bags. And there was a line of taxis to take everybody where the tow trucks had taken all of our cars."
She says the taxis were charging $45 to take drivers on a 15-mile trip to the tow yard, despite the fact the county says flat rates are not allowed.
Brianna Rhue: "I felt really taken for going into the mall to try and save some money around Christmas."
All County Towing is authorized to tow from the lot, and there are signs.
According to records from the Sunrise Police Department, All County towed 162 vehicles during Black Friday shopping.
An officer on the scene was concerned.
Sgt. Rod Hailey, Sunrise Police Department: "And he did have an issue with the towing that took place out there involving All County Towing. It was a very chaotic situation, and a lot of vehicles were being towed out of there very rapidly."
They were taken to this lot in downtown Fort Lauderdale, where signs make it clear: Cash Only, No Change.
Brianna took this picture while she waited to pay.
It was about 4:30 in the morning.
Brianna Rhue: "It was just a very sad sight. You have young kids with their moms who were supposed to have fun with their kids on Black Friday."
Sawgrass Mills Mall says it had nothing to do with the towing that went on at the private businesses.
Vince McNeil, Towed Shopper: "Wow, what a way to start off the shopping experience is to get towed the very first day."
Vince McNeil was also towed by All County.
While waiting to pay, he says he talked with shoppers who had come from Palm Beach County.
Vince McNeil, Towed Shopper: "And they were like, 'Well I gotta pay to get this car back, because I gotta go back, but I'm not coming to Broward to shop again.'"
Michael Ryan, Sunrise Mayor: "We get 25 million visitors a year, and what we don't want is a blemish like this."
Mayor Michael Ryan says the police department is investigating, and he has asked the state attorney for a grand jury investigation.
Michael Ryan: "Frankly, I'm furious. I want to get to the bottom of this and find out whether anything improper was done."
All County Towing turned down our request for an on-camera interview but sent a statement. It reads, "The vehicles parked during Black Friday were improperly parked. The owners were properly charged for the towing. Black Friday is no exception to improperly parking a vehicle. Also, other towing companies were towing during that time as well."
Many of the cars were towed from the lot at Applebee's.
A spokesperson for the restaurant says the towing was not authorized at the corporate level and it is so concerned that "We are going to get as much information as we can and try to contact those people that were towed to do what we can to 'make it right.'"
Carmel Cafiero, Investigative Reporter: "To make sure a tow company doesn't take the ho-ho-ho out of your holiday, be sure and check for Tow Away Zone signs before you park, anywhere, anytime, day or night."
The Sunrise Police Department asks that motorists who think they were unfairly towed to call the Sunrise Police Department at 954-746-3600 to make a report.
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