A Dallas tow company called Longhorn Wrecker may soon owe the state $88,900 in fines over towing violations. Reached for comment a few weeks ago, a bitter company representative said it was "all bullshit" and that his company had never been in trouble before. He apparently wasn't taking into account the civil lawsuit that, court records show, Longhorn Wrecker settled earlier this year with the family of a former employee who was killed on the job. The worker was shot and killed by an angry car owner, but his survivors would later blame Longhorn for putting him in a dangerous and violent situation.
The case, though unusual, isn't completely isolated. Over the past four years, there's been a few towing disputes that turned violent and deadly between employees of Dallas towing companies and pedestrians.
The Shooting at Casa Place Apartments
In 2011, Israel Esparza was visiting his brother, a handyman at the Casa Place Apartments. In the parking lot, a tow truck driver and a spotter from Longhorn Wrecker were at work towing cars. Realizing that his own car was being towed, Esparza "came out to seek revenge," the Dallas Police Department later told the media. Esparza shot at Jose Martinez, the Longhorn spotter, and killed him, police said. Tow truck driver Antonio Jones was also armed. After Esparza killed Martinez, police say, Jones took his own gun out and fired at Esparza, killing him too.
In the lawsuit filed afterward, the Martinez family accused Longhorn of incentivizing Martinez to "aggressively look for and spot any vehicles Defendant Longhorn could tow from Casa Place Apartments," at the cost of his safety. The suit was settled in August.
The Shooting at the Westwood Apartment Complex
The next year, Longhorn Wrecker was involved in another shootout at a Dallas apartment complex. It was just after midnight on a Sunday, a time when most people are out partying. But a Longhorn driver named Esau Vences was at work, towing a van from the Westwood Apartment Complex. Then, he claims, he heard multiple gunshots. "So I got my pistol and I look back and I shoot it," Vences later told the local news. The victim reportedly survived the shooting, and police arrested Vences. His tow truck captured a grainy video of the confrontation, showing two men running after him. It's not clear from the video if either of those men were in fact shooting at Vences as he claimed, but the Dallas Police Department apparently decided the evidence was strong enough to support Vences' side of the story. Vences was reportedly released from police custody after the cops saw the video.
Miguel Oliva, Run Over and Amputated
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In June 2010, a wrecker driver named Kelly David Hedge was working in Fort Worth for Dallas-based Ellertow when a man whose car he towed tried to stop him. Miguel Oliva says in court documents that he asked Hedge to drop his car but that the wrecker driver refused. Somehow, Hedge then ran over Oliva's leg. Oliva's lawsuit says that Hedge failed to apply his brakes and then failed to swerve to avoid hitting him. As a result of the accident, Oliva had to get his leg amputated below the knee.
Juan Steele, Killed by a Tow Truck
When Juan Steele lived at the Oasis Gardens apartments in Dallas, his car was towed an inexplicable seven times, according to a complaint his family filed. The final time that Steele saw his car being taken away in 2011, he chased after it. The driver, who was towing for Choice Towing, ran Steele over, his family says, killing him and leaving him for dead in the street. The suit that Steele's family subsequently filed against Choice Towing and the Oasis Gardens apartments has been held up in a Dallas Civil Court for two years, but records show that it is finally heading for a jury trial on December 9.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.