Saturday, June 3, 2023

Dozens towed from downtown Wilmington, owners overcharged: Residents and city disagree over what happened

City officials and residents disagree over whether ‘no parking’ signs were posted ahead of the city’s holiday parade. (Port City Daily photo / Benjamin Schachtman)

WILMINGTON — At least two dozen cars were towed from downtown Wilmington on the day of last week’s holiday parade. Multiple car owners say they did not see ‘no parking’ notices and, further, that tow companies used by the city violated regulations capping towing fees.

The city claims ‘no parking’ signs were posted, but admits some vehicle owners may have been overcharged because the towing list at the 911 center, usually reserved for wrecks, was used instead of non-emergency channels. This apparently led to confusion about appropriate fees.

Resident complaints

According to several emails written to the city, multiple vehicle owners parked on North and South Front streets on the afternoon of Sunday, December 8; because downtown parking is free on Sunday, and owners claim not to have seen any ‘no parking signs,’ many left their vehicles for several hours.

According to the city and the Wilmington Police Department (WPD), around 24 vehicles were towed prior to the City of Wilmington’s holiday parade; in emails to the city, some residents have said the number was higher.

In addition to being towed, several residents noted that they were overcharged or experienced other difficulties with the towing company’s. By city ordinance, companies that tow from public parking spots can charge no more than $100 for a tow, plus $35 if a dolly is required, and $35 for after-hours towing. The ordinance also requires companies to provide 24-hour access to towed vehicles; although some neighboring municipalities do require towing companies to accept credit cards, Wilmington’s ordinance does not.

Syndy Kevitz, a local teacher, said she was towed from a spot on North Front Street and charged $220 by the Wilmington Towing Company (which is privately owned, not city-operated). According to Kevitz, she parked around 3:30 p.m. on Sunday and saw no notices for ‘no parking’ zones. When she returned around 7:30 p.m. her car was gone, although she said other cars were still parked on the street.

Kevitz said an employee of the Wilmington Towing Company initially attempted to deny her 24-hour access to her vehicle.

“He tried to overcharge me — he tried to withhold my vehicle, if I didn’t call him back within ten minutes I’d have to get it in the morning,” Kevitz said. Wilmington Towing did not respond to a request for comment.

Kevitz later got in touch with city staff employee R.T. Jones, who oversees special events and who was responsible for posting ‘no parking’ signs. Jones told Kevitz that he had posted signs on Friday, and that city staff hadn’t taken them down until Sunday evening, after Kevitz was towed. Jones also told another resident, who had been towed from South Front Street between Dock and Market streets, that staff had not found any missing signs when they took them down Sunday evening.

Jones also told Kevitz that the city had surveillance video that proved the signs were up.

“I said, ‘that would be great, let’s see it — because maybe there were signs up and I just completely missed them, but at least we could put this to rest,’” Kevitz said.

Kevtiz said Jones then acknowledged that he hadn’t actually seen the video footage. The city confirmed that WPD’s STING center does have surveillance footage around Market and Front streets and that Jones told Kevitz this. However, city staff have not viewed the footage and do not know what “kind of shot or angle it provides relative to meter signage,” according to spokesperson Dylan Lee.

[Editor’s note: The city has informed residents that STING center footage is only available through a formal public records request, which Port City Daily has filed.]

Kevitz, who plans to file a complaint against Wilmington Towing, said she also sought to file a complaint against the Jones but, when she went to City Hall, she said she was told there was no complaint form for such an issue.

City response and (partial) refunds

City officials maintain that Jones and his staff used standard procedure, affixing “8 ½” x 11” signs, printed in green, placed in plastic sheet protectors and affixed to the meters with rubber bands,” according to Lee.

Lee also noted that there was some confusion about how the towing was initiated, and noted some vehicle owners would be eligible for a partial refund for the amount by which tow companies exceed city ordinance limits (that is, not a complete refund).

“The towing rotation list at the 911 center was used. That did cause some confusion though regarding fees (typical towing calls from the 911 rotation are due to wrecks which have a different, higher baseline charge than a standard tow). For a standard tow, the initial fee is $100. If they dollied the vehicle it’s an additional $35 and another $35 for an after-hours tow.  Inspector Bluford contacted the companies listed in the call notes from the 911 center and, in instances where they overcharged, they will refund for the overages,” Lee said.

It remains unclear why the 911 center was used, but it resulted in a dozen companies being contacted to tow vehicles. According to Lee, the following companies were contacted through 911: Winston’s Towing, Mr. Rescue, Ryan’s Towing, Empire Towing, Twisted Metal Towing, Vandalay Towing, Diva’s Towing, H&G Towing, Riverside Towing,  Seahawk Towing, Wilmington Towing, and Intercoastal Towing.     

Lee said those who want to comment or complain about a city-sponsored parade should call the Parks and Rec Department at 910-341-0079. Vehicle owners who want to comment or complain about towing from a public right-of-way within the city should call WPD Inspector Blu Bluford at 910-343-3628. (Bluford did not respond to phone messages regarding these towing incidents.)

Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001

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