Dallas' notorious tow companies seem to like parades. At the 2009 Gay Pride parade, Longhorn Towing illegally took 30 cars parked at the Oak Lawn post office, and the company was required to return the $138 towing fees to some customers after getting sued. This past Saturday, the night of the annual Oak Lawn Halloween Block Party, ended with dozens more questionable tows. An anonymous source said he towed over half a dozen cars that night. Though none of the businesses served by the lots were open, "there's signs all over the place that says patron parking for this shopping center only," the source reasons. The photograph above was taken at Dallas County VSF, the tow yard that at least four tow companies use to store people's cars.
Under state law, towing companies can only pull cars from parking lots with a sign that warns in the exact language, "Unauthorized Vehicles Will Be Towed at Owner's or Operator's Expense," with the days and time that towing is enforced, and several other statutes dictate the exact size and placement of the sign, all laws meant to give people fair warning that they are parking in a lot that doesn't mess around.
But the towing signs placed by at least one business near the Cedar Springs parade, the Office Depot parking lot on Oak Lawn, don't appear to follow that state law. One sign placed by the fire lane at the front of the store and another by a tree in the back read, "Towing Enforced, Patron Parking Only," 24/7, and are left in locations that are arguably difficult for people to notice when the sun isn't out.
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One parade-goer left her car in the Office Depot lot at 8 p.m. on Saturday night, she says, then returned after 1 a.m. to discover that her car was missing. The parking lot was filled with other cars, she says, but not hers. She called the phone number on the towing sign, which directed her to Choice Towing. The company told her to call the police, she says, but the 911 operator directed her back to Choice Towing, which finally found her car. She picked up the car the next day, paid a $164 fee and received a receipt that appeared to be very old or stained with water at the bottom. "This is the first night I have been able to go out due to a car accident in June that left me too injured to walk, sit or stand for any length of time," the angry parker says.
The Dallas Police Department received 43 tow or repo calls at the Office Depot address alone early Sunday morning, from 12:26 through 6:56 a.m., says Senior Corporal Debra Webb. Whether or not those tows were legally done isn't something that the DPD would investigate, she says. "They would have to call officers out there and they would have to observe it, so the officer would have to observe it happening," she says. It will ultimately be up to a Justice of the Peace to decide whether the tows were legitimate, should any of the parade-goers decide to appeal.
A manager reached at Office Depot's Oak Lawn store confirms the store has a contract with a towing company to remove cars, but referred additional questions to the corporate office.