9 Tales From Texas' Infamous Towing Watchdog — And Overpass Rock Thrower

Pat Johnson has been a thorn in the towing industry’s side since 2008, when he began posting on his blog “Texas Parking Facility Fraud.” A former tow truck driver, Johnson has written more than 290 articles about the towing industry and its predatory practices. He quickly established himself as the watchdog of the towing industry, Texans began contacting him for help, and he became an expert witness on the behalf of towing "victims." 

But in recent years, he’s not writing as many towing articles, fewer than a dozen since he found himself embroiled in his own legal battles. In 2013, a Travis County Grand Jury indicted him on three counts of sexually abusing a child and last week he was charged with throwing rocks over a bridge at oncoming traffic on I-35.

Realizing that these legal cases might turn people away from his website, the Observer searched through Johnson’s archives and found the most interesting stories he spun about the towing industry, and beyond.

1)  Meet the "Spotters"

Employed by the towing company, the spotter often sits or stands unassuming near the parking facility to find violators. He’s sometimes dressed as a biker and other times as a college student. He waits until the violator leaves the car, then quickly calls the tow truck operator who is often around the corner. It takes only a matter of moments for them to hook up the violator’s car and drive away with it. “This is the purest form of violating the Texas Towing Law." He claims the tow trucks are engaging in organized criminal activity’ since more the three people are involved:  the spotter, the wrecker driver, the parking facility owner and the towing company representative.

2) Child Rapist Licensed

On September 21, 2010, Johnson posted about the Texas Department Licensing and Regulation granting an occupational license to a child rapist. “The public has to understand the serious threat posed to them when calling a business regulated by this agency,” he wrote. “The person arriving at your doorstep, or arriving to your location, could be a registered sex offender and/or a convicted felon.” He ought to know, considering his own indictment.   

In another post, he paints the industry with a wide brush. “So this just goes to show you, think twice before calling a tow truck to tow your vehicle broken down on the highway somewhere with [your] daughter or wife waiting without you,” he writes. “The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation has issued thousands of tow truck operators and tow company licenses to convicted felons and registered sex offenders.”

3) The Watchdog Testifies 
Johnson takes his issues to his nemesis during public comments at the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations Commission Meeting in 2012.  His manic passion is on display. 

4) Holiday Shopping Battleground

In a post titled “Criminals Target Holiday Shoppers in Parking Lots,” Johnson provides readers with a glimpse into his paranoid mindset.  He sees malls as a feeding ground for crooks and thieves, so much so that holiday shoppers should reconnoiter parking lots before parking. 

“If you are attacked, do not resist,” he writes. “If you are forced into a physical confrontation to protect yourself and others, scream to call attention to yourself. Use keys or thumbs to gouge the attacker’s eyes, use the heel of your hand to jam the attacker’s nose, or Adam’s Apple, knee the groin area or stomp down on top of the attacker’s foot. Then quickly run to escape.”

It’s unclear how this relates to tow truck operators or predatory towing, but it speaks volumes about the mindset of this self-appointed watchdog. “Criminals are hungry,” he concludes. “They will strike when they believe your guard is down.”

5) How to Spot a Pirate Tow Truck 

Johnson urged the public to report unlicensed tow trucks in July 2013 because they were causing undue financial harm by charging outrageous fees and stealing credit card numbers during the payment process. They’re pretty easy to spot, he claims, since they fail to display a license plate that says "Tow Truck" like licensed operators. “Should you observe a truck with this type of towing device (wheel-lift) operating on the roadway attached to a vehicle, call 911 to report an unlicensed tow truck,” he writes. “Get as much information of the truck, including make, color and the license plate number.”

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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.