Complaints were brought to the Chattanooga Wrecker Board on Thursday about two businesses.
A complaint against Guy Yates Wrecker 7 Garage Service, 1725 Chickamauga Loop, came from a competitor, not a customer. The claim is that the business has been operating within a district without having a physical business office there. There is also a question if towed vehicles are being stored at the location.
Chattanooga Wrecker Inspector John Collins told the board that after receiving the complaint, he had driven by the business several times, as late as Wednesday, and it appeared no business is operating there.
The surrounding fence has a for lease sign on it but nothing to identify it as being Yates Wreckers. He saw only a few cars parked behind the building this past weekend. Officer Collins said it looks like an empty lot and would be difficult for people to get their cars with no one there.
The city of Chattanooga is divided into six districts for towing services. Assistant City Attorney Melinda Foster, who represents the wrecker board for the city, said the wrecker ordinance specifies that to participate in Chattanooga’s rotation towing list, a business must have a physical business office in the district they service. It is also required to have an office and storage facility for towed vehicles, within that district. There are grey areas in the ordinance as to whether that office must be staffed and if tow trucks and equipment must be stored at the location.
In addition to the Chattanooga address, Guy Yates operates from another location in Ringgold. Currently their tow trucks and equipment are stored there, which is considered to be their home office, or are taken home by the employees. Wrecker Board member Trevor Atchley said that it looks like Yates is required to have a storage facility in Chattanooga so people will have access to their cars when they want to have them moved, but it appears that, according to the ordinance, they would not have to keep the tow trucks there.
Eric Yates, representing the company, told the board that due to COVID-19 people have not been allowed in the building, and that phone calls are being forwarded to his cell phone. But he said customers have been taken care of, and no complaints have come from them. He said his lease at the Chickamauga Loop address is through the end of December and he is currently in the process of purchasing a new, larger location.
Because people are already stressed when their vehicle have to be towed without having to search for their cars, Board Member Ron Smith he made a motion to take Guy Yates Wrecker off the city’s rotation list for 30 days. It seems stiff, he said, but is the only option that is allowed by the city. The motion failed on a vote of four opposed and three in favor. The board needs five votes to take action. The case was tabled until the Wrecker Board meeting on Dec. 3 when all members should be present to vote. Officer Collins will bring additional, new photos to that meeting.
Reed Martz, owner of a car driven by his son that was involved in a two-car wreck on Gadd Road in September, filed a complaint against Conley’s Wrecker Service, 6714 Middle Valley Road, for overcharging. Claims were for inflated number of days stored, for charging the county’s storage rate of $25 per day versus $15 per day that the city of Chattanooga allows, charging a “gate fee,” charging for an extra employee, for additional oil dry to clean the road, and for winching the vehicle to the tow truck.
Officer Collins said that he could usually look at a picture and see if the bill fits the standards, and that it appeared some of the charges were in excess of the prices that Chattanooga sets. Brandon Ratledge, representing Conley’s, made the case to justify all charges. Plus, he said that the insurance company had been sent a reimbursement check for a mistake made about the storage charge.
A gate fee was described as a charge to move a car outside the fenced area so another tow truck sent by an insurance company would not damage the business’s fences, gates or other parked vehicles. A charge for this work is allowed by the Chattanooga ordinance, only if it is performed outside of regular business hours. This time it was done in the morning. That charge for moving the vehicle twice was problematic to the board members. Christopher Keene said if your lot is insufficient in size it should be reconfigured or enlarged, and that the costs to rearrange vehicles should not be passed to other people. If damage is done, an accident report should be filed with the offender.
Winching a vehicle should be included in the overall cost of towing, extra charges which were on Mr. Martz’s bill, are allowed only if the vehicle is down an embankment or rolled over, which was not the case, and oil dry is required to be on all tow trucks and should also be included in the cost of towing, not an added charge, the board was told.
The motion to suspend Conley’s Towing from participation in the rotation list for 30 days passed unanimously and will be effective Nov. 30. This will allow time for the business to appeal the decision. The decision by the board does not prevent Conley’s Towing from working private towing jobs.
Members of the wrecker board were in agreement that the amount towing businesses are allowed to charge, governed by the city’s ordinance, needs review. The prices were last set in 2001 and it was noted that both Hamilton County and the state of Tennessee have higher rates than the city. Chairman of the Board Dan Mayfield suggested for owners and drivers of tow trucks to arrange a meeting with Officer Collins who could talk to them about the rules and hear their suggestions for changes. He said that ultimately it is the Chattanooga City Council that writes the rules. The beer board’s job is only to enforce them.