HOUSTON—What can happen behind the scenes, at the scene of some car accidents, can wind up costing you thousands of dollars, according to documents obtained by the KHOU 11 News I-Team.
When police call in a tow truck, that wrecker driver must take your car where you want it. But some accident victims tell the I-Team they were pressured and pushed to have their vehicle towed to one business and one business only—Vickery Auto Storage in the 4600 block of E. Mount Houston Road in northeast Harris County.
The reason is revealed in Vickery’s own company documents, which show it pays wrecker drivers a bounty to bring your car in to their storage yard. The reward is as high as $700 for late-model vehicles. And there are bonuses too, like “tow in five vehicles per week, get an extra 200 bucks.”
“There’s some that take advantage, definitely,” said Harris County Sheriff’s Lt. Darrell Coleman, who added that the cash can have a bad affect—swaying some tow truck drivers to ignore your right to choose.
Lt. Coleman: “They see an avenue.”
I-Team: “And the avenue is loaded with money?”
Coleman: “Yes sir. In the end, there’s one loser, and that’s going to be the consumer, the vehicle owner.”
So why would Vickery pay out this sort of money? To make even more money if you ask consumers like Cindy Haley and her son Ryan Haley.
“It’s just robbery, it’s just not right,” Cindy Haley said.
The family said after Ryan got into a crash, Vickery Auto Storage pulled a fast one.
Ryan Haley: “In order to get my belongings out I had to sign these papers, and I kept asking what am I signing?”
I-Team: “What were you signing?”
Ryan Haley: “Papers to get the car repaired, and I did not know that.”
Turns out, Vickery’s owner also owns a body shop, CityWide Collision Center, which took possession of Haley’s car, and charged them a whopping $2,000 to get it back.
“It’s just not right,” Cindy Haley said.
Consumer complaints have landed Vickery Auto Storage and Citywide Collision a rating of “F” from the Houston Better Business Bureau, and $12,000 in fines from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation in recent years.
So we tried to ask owner Curtis Mounts some questions.
Mounts: “Please leave the property.”
I-Team: “Can I ask you about this price sheet here?”
Mounts: “That price sheet is what I pay my wrecker drivers to come in here so...”
Mounts didn’t want to talk much about his business practices.
Mounts: “I’m telling you to leave the property, or I’m going to call the cops on you. It’s not anybody’s business what I pay wrecker drivers to bring their cars in here.”
I-Team: “It’s consumers’ business, are you being fair to consumers when you pay wrecker drivers hundreds of dollars?”
Mounts : “Yes I am.”
I-Team: “You’re putting a bounty on consumers’ cars aren’t you?
Mounts: “Whatever I pay to get these vehicles in here or whatever I pay the tow truck driver has nothing to do with anybody, or has nothing to do with what I charge the consumer.”
But authorities said it has to be absorbed somewhere, somehow.
“Everything that you see is going to be passed, or we do believe is going to be passed back down to the bottom line, the consumer,” Coleman said.
Coleman added that the bounty itself is not addressed under the Harris County ordinance governing towing and storage lot fees, and therefore is not considered illegal.