WILKES-BARRE – The city's towing contractor appears to have violated a state motor vehicle law that requires towers to file a form notifying the state Department of Transportation when they tow an abandoned vehicle.
The form, known as an MV-952, is meant to protect vehicle owners by ensuring they are notified their vehicle has been taken, and advise them of their rights.
LAG Towing Inc., the city's designated tower, did not file a single abandoned vehicle report with PennDOT in 2012, according to Jan McKnight, a department spokeswoman.
City council Vice President Tony George, a vocal critic of LAG, said the failure to file the forms is a clear violation of the law. He's questioned city officials about what happened, but so far has not gotten a definitive answer, he said.
George said Police Chief Gerry Dessoye told him it is LAG's responsibility to notify police, if police did not initiate the tow, any time he tows an abandoned vehicle.
George said he doesn't know why no one checked to ensure he was doing so.
Leo Glodzik III, owner of LAG, said on Tuesday he did not have time to talk and hung up on a reporter before hearing the question being asked.
In an email, city Administrative Coordinator Drew McLaughlin said the city administration plans to look at all of LAG's practices as part of its review of the contract and to ensure the company is complying with all regulations. We will take appropriate action if no-compliance with any governmental regulations is determined, he said.
Under the state motor vehicle code, any tower or salvager who takes possession of an abandoned vehicle must file the required form with PennDOT within 48 hours. PennDOT will then send out a certified letter to the owner advising him or her that he or she has 30 days to claim the vehicle – or it and its contents can be sold.
Anyone who violates the law could be charged with a summary offense. The tower also could have its license to tow abandoned vehicles suspended.
Asked if PennDOT would seek to take any action against LAG, McKnight said she could not obtain an answer to the question by the deadline for this article.
George said he's concerned because the intent of the law is to ensure the owners are given prompt notice so that they don't rack up unnecessary, and often expensive, storage fees on top of the towing cost. It's to protect the people, he said. You can only charge (storage fees) from the date the notification was sent.
The apparent failure to file abandoned vehicle reports is the latest in a long list of issues George has had with LAG's performance under its contract, which is set to expire in May 2015.
George last week intervened in the case of 82-year-old Natalie Aleo, whose car reportedly was stolen on Dec. 10.
The car, a 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass, was recovered in Plymouth Township a day later. She was never advised the car had been retrieved until last week, she said.
McLaughlin said Dessoye explained there was a breakdown in communication between police departments in notifying Aleo. Wilkes-Barre has since implemented a back-up records procedure to ensure the error is not repeated.
George, a former police chief, said he understands mistakes happen. He said there is no excuse for how LAG handled the situation, however.
Aleo was told by LAG she would have to pay about $1,700 to get her car out of storage – a violation of LAG's contract, which states he cannot charge crime victims, George said.
Aleo never paid any money, as she opted to turn over the title to LAG after being advised the car was not in running order.
In an interview last week, Aleo said she was not upset with LAG. George said he's concerned she might not have fully understood her rights and might unnecessarily have signed the title over to LAG.
It isn't right, George said. She seems like a sweet little old lady who was just happy she didn't have to pay (nearly) $2,000. She thinks it was a miscommunication. She doesn't understand … they should not have told her she owed any money.