Seaside Heights Tow Company Still Under Fire For Fees, Damage
An copy of an invoice from a Seaside Heights residents whose car was towed off his private property shows some of the charges being made by APK Towing of Toms River which have come under fire from a number of sides.
Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford says her office is "aware that there are allegations of excessive prices. They may or may not conflict with state law and that's what we're looking into," she said.
Ford is quick to caution that it will take solid evidence to determine whether any case, civil or criminal, exists. But she’s formed the Hurricane Sandy Task Force to field complaints of unethical or illegal practices against storm victims, and she’s urging people who think they’ve been targeted to call her office.
“People who feel they have been the victim of a crime related to the aftermath of the storm are encouraged to report that to their local police department or to the Office of the Ocean County Prosecutor,” says Ford. “They should not under any circumstances try to confront someone they suspect of criminal activity, or to otherwise place themselves in a position where their safety is compromised.”
County Senior Assistant Prosecutor Martin Anton heads the force. He can be reached at 732-929-2027.
An order was given by Seaside Heights Borough officials to remove cars from the streets so equipment and trucks could be brought in for cleanup operations following Superstorm Sandy. However, many residents say the Borough's authorized tow company, APK Auto Repair overstepped their instructions to tow vehicles off the streets and went onto private property to remove cars according to a report by The Examiner.
An resident's invoice for a tow off his property obtained by Townsquare Media NJ, indicates the tow was done under the direction of the Seaside Heights Office of Emergency Management.
The owner of the vehicle initially called a number that belongs to Richard DeMarco, who said it would cost $600 to claim the car.
A post on the Ocean County Police Blotter Facebook page says APK Auto Repair is owned by Matt DeMarco. Richard's position with the company is not known.
After the owner spoke to Richard, he reduced the the bill to $400 because he is a year-round resident.
The vehicle's owner was charged for 5 days of storage at $25 per day for a total of $175. Residents were not allowed back to Seaside Heights until Monday, a week after Sandy struck the shore.
There was also a "tacking, invoice, data,notice fee of $103" and sales tax of $15.96 for a total of $418.96.
Seaside Heights Borough Administrator Jon Camera told Toms River Magazine that according to a Borough ordinance tow rates start at $125 and increase based on the size of the vehicle being towed.
Vehicles towed by APK were taken to a lot on Route 37 at Coolidge Avenue which according to photos posted on the Ocean County Police Blotter Facebook page is overflowing with vehicles parked inches away from each other but careful not to block the sidewalk along Coolidge Avenue.
Jamie Brasier told Toms River Magazine in a story posted on the Facebook page she found her vehicle with damage. "The bumper was ripped off and there were a couple of dents," said Brasier.
However, other cars were taken to other lots and people trying to find their cars were not given a straight answer as to where their car was taken.
Toms River Magazine followed an APK tow truck to Bamber Lake Auto Recycling in Lacey Township.
Seaside heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd said on Tuesday his department is aware of the problem and is already investigating. “We’ve got our detectives on it along with (New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs). The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office was (also) notified immediately.”
Seaside Heights Administrator John Camera told Toms River Magazine an order for towing off streets was issued that did not include removing vehicles from private property. He said because of the complaints those needing their vehicle towed out of Seaside Heights will be allowed to use any company.
New York City Cracks Down On Towing Scams
New York City police are working to prevent unscrupulous tow truck drivers from taking storm-damaged vehicles before insurance companies can get to them.
NYPD Deputy Inspector Joseph Kenny tells WABC-TV that some tow truck drivers pretend they're contracted by the city.
He says they take away the car, then demand hefty towing and storage fees.
A tow truck driver can get up to $500 per vehicle at the junkyard.
Police have arrested four unlicensed tow operators and are on the lookout for more. The NYPD has undercover roving patrols and is setting up checkpoints.
Tom Mongelli and the Associated Press contributed to this story.