GASTONIA, N.C. (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE)- Complaints about a “predatory” towing company in Gastonia have led to police being called to a vacant lot at least twice this week.
Gastonia police say they are called out to the lot off I-85 and North Chester Street, behind the ExxonMobil “pretty regularly” for “years.” At least two truck drivers believe they were targeted by an overzealous towing company after their truck was booted while they were still inside the cab. Both drivers say they were parked for a short while.
The lot is an easy place for truckers to park and get towed. The owner of Southside Towing says what he’s doing is legal and police agree. The lot is private property and multiple red signs warn unauthorized vehicles will be booted and towed.
“Get that off my truck!,” truck driver Glenn Keller is heard telling a 911 operator on Wednesday.
“It makes it look like extortion to me,” said Keller. “It makes it look like they’re criminals or members of the mob or something.”
Keller says he was given an option: Pay to have the boot removed or shell out $5000 to have it towed.
“We’re the good guys,” he said. “You know, we’re the guys that make sure the groceries [are] on the shelf, the clothes [are] on the rack, the new cars in the parking lot. And we have to deal with these predators.”
When FOX 46 went to see the lot on Friday, Gastonia police were already on scene. DJ Durham says he pulled over for a roadside emergency when he was booted.
“He’s telling me he put a boot on my car,” said Durham. “I grab my phone and say. ‘I’m going to call the police.’ And he said, ‘That’s an extra thousand dollars if you call the police.’…I don’t know how someone can charge you for calling the police to make sure everything’s going 100 and everything’s legit.”
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Southside Towing owner Brandon Abernathy says “it’s more” money the “more time” he has to “sit out here.”
“It’s not a truck stop,” said Abernathy, who says he is contracted to keep the lot clear.
He insists his drivers do not sit and wait for truck drivers to park in the lot, which is across the street from a school. He says he has caught drivers having sex, changing oil and tires, littering and doing various repairs.
“When someone’s in the car, why not just go to him first and say, ‘Hey, you can’t park here, can you move?,'” asked FOX 46 reporter Matt Grant. “Instead of just automatically putting the boot on when he’s still in the truck.”
“Well, the reason don’t do that is because we do have signs. And, by law and ordinance, we don’t have to. It’s not something we have to do. It’s just the way we do, the way we do our stuff.”
He says his prices are “fair” and in line with what other companies charge.
“I would say anywhere there’s posted signs that say ‘private property’ I would not park there,” he warned.
Abernathy says when it comes to tractor trailers he boots the tractor and trailer separately, charging $3000. It’s a practice Attorney General Josh Stein previously criticized other companies for doing.
“A double boot and a double charge is something our office may look into,” said Laura Brewer, a spokesperson for Stein.