Supervisors to look at ordinance regulating towing fees

Published 4:11 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Supervisors decided on Monday to direct board attorney Joe Montgomery to investigate Picayune’s ordinance regulating the fees wrecker companies charge residents whose vehicle is towed after they are taken into custody by law enforcement authorities.

Rather than leaving the person’s vehicle abandoned at the site of the arrest, and to avoid the possibility of the vehicle being involved in an accident while in the custody of law enforcement officials, officers call a towing company based on a rotating list of companies. Both the sheriff’s department and the Poplarville and Picayune police maintain such lists.

The board’s action came after Sara Holloway of Carriere appeared before supervisors and alleged that she was overcharged by a Picayune towing company when her son was taken into custody and a wrecker was called to tow his vehicle.

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She alleged overcharging was a widespread practice and said she intended to get the laws changed to stop the practice.

The owner of the wrecker company, Darren Champagne, Sr., contacted after the meeting, challenged Holloway’s description of what happened and maintained his fees are in-line with other companies. Champagne owns the Picayune-based company, Walker Towing. He was not at Monday’s board meeting.

Holloway alleged the company charged her $180 for towing the vehicle seven miles and alleged storage fees later caused the bill to balloon to $810. She said she did not have the money to pay the bill.

Holloway said that she had contacted state officials about the matter, but officials told her that she needed to contact the local board of supervisors before bringing the matter to the attention of state officials.

 She said, in addition, the towing company would not let her retrieve her son’s personal items from the vehicle.

Supervisor Sandy Kane Smith, to whom Holloway complained before coming before the board, said that he had received prior complaints about the same thing and that the county should explore Picayune’s ordinance regulating fees.

Supervisors pointed out that those arrested by the sheriff’s department have no choice whether or not to call a wrecker .However, it came outduring discussion that the vehicle owner might have other means of getting a vehicle off the road.

“I have talked to a number of towing company owners in this matter, and it works out to a ‘he said, she said’ situation most of the time. So I think we ought to look at the rates and find out if we could work something out to solve this problem. I don’t know ultimately what the answer is,” said Smith.

Contacted about the charges made by Holloway at Monday’s board meeting, Champagne said that he had tried unsuccessfully to cooperate with Holloway, and alleged that she had tried to “slander me on Facebook.” He said he had heard she would probably go before the board, and “I reckon I should have been there to present my side.

“I charge the same thing as everyone else, $150. You have to take into consideration the size of Pearl River County, and from where the wrecker leaves. The bill was $150 and $30 for one day storage. I did not allow her to retrieve personal items because the vehicle was registered to her son,” said Champagne. “Picayune can regulate a flat fee because of the short distances inside the city. Pearl River County is one of the biggest counties in the state. There’s quite a bit of difference. You don’t know where you might wind up, maybe even Crossroads.”

Champagne said it was “days later” before Holloway presented evidence that she had “power of attorney” for her son. He said he is considering going to the next supervisors’ meeting and presenting his side of the story.

After the Holloway presentation, the board went into an executive session to discuss  personnel, and then recessed to next Monday at 9 a.m.