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Driver receives $7,895 towing bill for crash on downtown connector

By Harry Samler

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    ATLANTA, Georgia (WANF) — A driver’s first thought after an accident is most likely an expletive, and if the car won’t drive, most aren’t thinking about how to vet a reputable, state-licensed and insured towing company.

Mike Sutton, owner of All-Star Towing, said drivers in an accident aren’t thinking straight.

“When you break down, you are in a crisis position, and you need help,” Sutton said. “So a lot of times, you don’t think. You’re confused. What do I do and who do I call?”

Erica Thomas said the tow truck driver who removed her car and gave her a ride was nice.

“He was also flirtatious, kind of,” she said.

Thomas was going to work when she crashed into another car on Atlanta’s downtown connector at 14th Street. A Georgia State Patrol trooper responded to the three-car crash.

Two tow trucks showed up to the crash, but GSP confirmed that nobody called them. The state law enforcement agency shares a list of approved, licensed and insured towing companies, and their drivers undergo criminal background checks.

Three hours later, Thomas received a payment invoice on her phone.

Thomas said Jay’s Towing LLC texted the bill and told her to contact her insurance company. GSP confirmed its owner, James Collins Jr., is not licensed with its the agency’s Motor Carrier Compliance Division (MCCD) and does not have an active D.O.T. number. It issued Collins a cease-and-desist order in November.

Pro Auto was the towing company listed on the police report. MCCD’s investigation said Pro Auto had a business connection with Collins and confirmed the company is registered with the Georgia Secretary of the State.

“However, they are not registered as a motor carrier,” said GSP spokesperson Lt. Michael Burns. “MCCD will continue to follow up on this and will act accordingly. If any of his companies are (re)discovered as an illegal non-consensual towing carrier, MCCD will serve them with a cease-and-desist order under the new name, and each violation may result in fines up to $15,000, criminal charges, additional fees, and any civil penalties issued by a court.”

If the driver is not injured, GSP said the parties involved can use whatever towing service they like, but it’s never a good idea for drivers to use a company of which they are unfamiliar.

“When it’s someone who just pulls up on a scene, you don’t know anything about them,” Lt. Burns said. “The trooper doesn’t know anything about them. They just have a wrecker.”

GSP’s standard practice is to warn drivers about wrecker services not on its list. A dashcam video obtained by Atlanta News First Investigates shows the trooper did exactly that.

“I just kind of want to give you a little disclaimer,” the trooper said. “These are not state-approved tow trucks. These are not the guys we call. If you want to have them tow, fine. If they accept insurance, great! I just want to let you know these are not the people we call.”

Thomas called her insurer and does not know if it paid the bill, but said they totaled her car.

Last week Atlanta News First Investigates went back to the same tow yard used to store Thomas’s car. Neighbors said GSP have made several visits over the past few months. The lot is empty, and all the cars are gone.

In Metro Atlanta, there are companies licensed with the MCCD. They are insured and their drivers undergo criminal background checks. They are also limited in how much they can charge.

Sutton said reputable companies will provide drivers with upfront pricing. He said their hook-up fee averages $125 plus a charge of $3 per mile.

Drivers with a AAA membership receive free towing, but Burns said GSP doesn’t recommend them for interstate accidents.

“I realize people pay a lot for AAA, but that’s who you want to go to if you need a tire changed, or your transmission blew up, or you have a mechanical defect,” Burns said. “If you were in a crash, you really want the quickest person to get you off the interstate because you don’t want to stand on the side of the expressway for three hours waiting for AAA.”

AAA reports its average response time at 21 minutes.

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