Yates Family Still Battling Over Wrecker Calls

Thursday, January 17, 2013 - by Gail Perry

Three wrecker companies came to the Thursday meeting of the Chattanooga Beer/Wrecker Board to once again deliberate the rules that govern which company is called to clear a wreck. The ordinance, that is meant to distribute the work fairly, creates confusion and differences in interpretation.

The city maintains a list of qualified towing and recovery businesses which are assigned work on a rotating basis and is administered by the 911 dispatch center and approved by Chattanooga Police Officer John Collins.

If a contract is registered with the city for a preferred towing company, the driver of the vehicle involved is suppose to tell the officer at the scene of the wreck which towing company to use. If no company is specified, the work will be assigned according to the next company on the rotation list.

The latest dispute was caused by a wreck on I-24 on Dec. 14 that involved a truck that had overturned near the Moore Road exit. At this incident, the driver did not know the towing and recovery company to ask for. The largest marking on the truck was “Burris Trucking,” and small letters identified “Ryder Trucking.” The officer at the scene told the dispatcher the truck’s owner was Burris and, having been given no preference of a towing company, the next one on the rotation list was dispatched. It was later discovered that the truck was owned by Ryder but leased by Burris.

Shannon Yates, representing Doug Yates Towing and Recovery, said his firm received the call concerning the wreck at 4 a.m. from the dispatcher. A few minutes after that, while en route to the scene, he received a call from Ryder about the wreck since they have a contract with his company. He notified the officer at the scene that they were working a contract call. The city maintains this was recorded as a rotation call. Shannon Yates and Doug Yates asked the Wrecker Board members to change the classification so they would still be next up on the rotation list.

In doing so, Shannon Yates said his company had followed the procedure laid out in the ordinance and just asked for it to be enforced.

Assistant City Attorney Keith Reisman explained that for the current system to work a driver must request a towing company to use and that if it is not done, the wreck will be considered a rotation call. He also said that if a call is disputed after a wrecker has been dispatched, a truck would not be turned back.

Officer Collins told the board that the priorities of handling a wreck is first the condition of the driver and other people involved. The officer then must tell the dispatcher what services are needed, such as a recovery vehicle, fire equipment or medical assistance. This is all done in a manner designed to get the interstate back open as quickly as possible. And, he noted that recently the rotation list has become a “hot topic.”

Eric Yates from Guy Yates Towing Company spoke in support of the decision to consider that wreck a rotation call, and attorney Neil Campbell representing Monteagle Towing agreed. Additionally, he asked for the Chattanooga City Council to get involved in the discussions about the wrecker ordinance.

Shannon Yates, attempting to further explain his position, prompted Police Officer Mark Haskins to warn him the meeting needs to be orderly or that he would be asked to leave.

Board member Kevin McKenna disagreed with Shannon Yates that the officer had made a mistake. “The city did it all the way they were supposed to,” said Mr. McKenna.

Board member Phillip Sallee made the motion, based on evidence presented, that this job be considered a district rotation tow, not a contract tow. The motion passed with only board member Ed Townson voting no.

The competition for business is driven by the fact that each wreck has the potential of earning $6,000-$10,000 for the towing company, according to Eric Yates. When a trucking company contracts with a towing company, a different price is negotiated.

Attorney Reisman told Shannon Yates that even though the disputed wreck will continue to be classified as a rotation call, the company can still charge Ryder the discounted amount.

In other business, the wrecker board unanimously approved issuing a license to S&H Towing located at 5327 Highway 58. The company has been in business for many years. The location has recently been annexed into Chattanooga and owner Lesley Cantrell applied for the license in order to be put on the city’s rotation list.

Functioning as the Beer Board, a beer permit application was made from Charlie Lumas for a new restaurant at 313 Manufacturers Road Suite 119. The company will be doing business as Elemental.

This hearing was the fourth time the company had appeared on the board’s agenda, but the license was unable to be voted on because the building is still under construction and the health department has not yet made a final approval. The application was postponed until the next meeting of the Beer Board on Feb. 7. Chairman James Hobbs told Mr. Lumas the restaurant could open before then without selling beer.

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