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$9,000 towing bill prompts calls for stronger predatory towing laws in Michigan

MSP: Redford tower didn't break law by approaching crash victims
696 crash
Posted at 9:18 PM, Feb 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-21 22:31:55-05

REDFORD, Mich. (WXYZ) — The Detroit Towers Association is calling to add more teeth to Michigan’s laws against predatory towing after a Redford company was caught trying to bill a driver $9,000 following a major pileup on I-696.

The company, 10G Towing and Recovery, was one of several towers to respond to a pileup of more than 50 vehicles on Feb. 6 that shut down miles of freeway throughout Southeast Michigan.

“This has been a problem since 2010,” said Barry Foster, the president of the Detroit Towers Association. “A lot of these guys, they ride around with scanners with their trucks and they’re trying to get that scene to see what’s going on and beat the police authorized tower to the scene, and the police for that matter.”

RELATED: 'It's being held for ransom.' Driver stuck in I-696 pileup hit with $9,000 towing bill

One of the cars in the pileup belonged to Kellie Rockwell, whose Ford Escape sustained damage on the passenger side and rear. While she sat in her car, Rockwell said she was approached by an employee of 10G.

“The tow driver just walked up to our car, asked if we wanted him to get us out and we said yes because we assumed they were with the police,” Rockwell said.

But she would later learn that police did not call the company.

Days after her vehicle was towed, Rockwell saw the massive bill. It included a $2,195 towing charge, a $200 mileage charge, a $250 “extra person” fee, a $650 charge for special equipment, $800 for labor, $525 for storage, a $395 COVID-19 fee, $50 for fuel, a $1,900 “gate/admin” fee, a $300 flatbed charge and $275 winch fee.

10G added a 20% “processing fee” on top, bringing to total tow cost to $9,048.

“No way and no how can you justify $9,000,” said Bill Byers, the owner of Byers Wrecker Service in Rochester and a former president of the Michigan Towing Association.

Byers estimated that towing Rockwell’s Ford Escape should have cost under $400.

“That’s just blatantly taking advantage of somebody just because they can," he said.

Today in Michigan, it is illegal for tow companies to solicit drivers at the scene of an accident, but the fine for doing so is only $1,000.

Foster and others in the towing industry say stories like this are evidence that the penalties should be more severe. Foster suggested increasing the fine to $2,500.

He stressed the majority of towing companies don’t engage in the practices of companies like 10G, but acknowledged that there are bad actors in the business.

He said that drivers in Kellie Rockwell’s position should insist on using a tow company that is authorized by police, which operate on a fee schedule that won’t allow for ridiculous markups.

“If you’re not asking that tower if he’s a police authorized tower or a recommended company,” Foster said, “you’re basically giving them an open checkbook.”

After first trying to charge Rockwell $9,000, 10G later cut price down to $2,500 after she was interviewed by 7 Action News. Her insurer, Progressive, then agreed to pay.

Rockwell says she was contacted by Michigan State Police Friday and interviewed by troopers about her experience with 10G.

On Monday, a spokesman for Michigan State Police said the department determined that the company had not committed a crime. He said civil litigation could be pursued by Rockwell or her insurer, however.

Reached by phone, an employee of 10G declined comment.

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at 248-827-9466.