Hilton Head Island towing ordinance revisited

tbarton@islandpacket.comJanuary 9, 2012 

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Hilton Head Island officials resumed debate Monday on adopting tow-truck regulations similar to ones approved in June by Beaufort County.

Members of the Public Safety Committee were waiting for the county to approve the ordinance before considering town rules about towing vehicles from private property.

Stricter control of towing companies was proposed after a 2010 Christmas Eve shooting near Bluffton, in which tow-truck driver Preston Oates is accused of killing Carlos Alberto Olivera, 34, during an argument over a wheel boot Oates had placed on Olivera's minivan.

The new rules made those boots illegal, but only in unincorporated Beaufort County. The ordinance also caps some fees on towing services.

Several people complained last summer about their cars being towed from a business on Hilton Head's Main Street while dining at a nearby restaurant.

Committee chairman and Town Councilman Bill Harkins said towing operations should be fair and protect residents and visitors. An ordinance would bring a "sense of calm, reason and respect for all parties involved."

Not everyone on Town Council agreed.

"Is this a solution looking for a problem?" asked Councilman George Williams Jr., who attended the meeting.

The committee considered an ordinance modeled largely after the county's, but took no action.

The draft, in most cases, makes it unlawful to tow a vehicle from private property without authorization from the town or a law enforcement agency. An exception applies to businesses with no-parking signs warning drivers that vehicles will be towed at their expense. Signs must also contain a phone number to call to have the car released.

Before towing a car without the owner's consent, the company must get written authorization from the property owner and call the Sheriff's Office with vehicle information, the address from which it was towed, the reason for the towing and where it can be claimed by its owner.

Towing companies say the regulation is unnecessary and oppose any caps on fees lower than the county's.

"It needs to be done fairly, and we have to continue to be able to make a living," said Tommy Burrows, owner of Tommy's Towing in Bluffton.

Town staff plans to solicit more input from towing companies, gated communities and the public before presenting a revised proposal to the committee.

Follow staff writer Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.

Related Content

  1. Town of Hilton Head Island draft towing ordinance
  2. Beaufort County towing ordinance
  3. Town of Hilton Head considering towing ordinance: July 14, 2011
  4. New tow-truck rules approved for unincorporated Beaufort County: June 14, 2011

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