Hilton Head continues towing debate

tbarton@islandpacket.comFebruary 6, 2012 

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Hilton Head Island Town Council members can't decide how far they should go in regulating towing operations.

Council's Public Safety Committee resumed deliberations Monday on adopting tow-truck regulations similar to ones approved in June by Beaufort County, but again took no action. The town has been considering an ordinance since July.

Chairman Bill Harkins said he thinks the committee is "reaching a point of focus," but can't decide whether it should go beyond setting caps on towing services and what those caps should be.

Towing-company representatives again told the committee the regulation is unnecessary and they oppose any caps lower than the county's.

The ordinance would cap fees for cars towed from private property without the owners' consent at $150 or $175, depending on the type of equipment used. The county set a cap of $200.

It also would set a $45 maximum fee if the owner returns before the vehicle is attached to the tow truck. The maximum fee would be $75 if the vehicle has already been attached. The county set its cap at $75 and $100, respectively.

"I think these regulations create more of a headache," Advance Automotive & Towing owner Chuck Padgett said.

Town staff plans to use the feedback to further revise the proposal and present it at the committee's next meeting.

The revised ordinance also would make it unlawful to tow a vehicle from private property without authorization from the town or a law enforcement agency.

Exceptions apply to businesses with no-parking signs that warn drivers vehicles will be towed at their expense and residences where owners or managers have discretion as to who is authorized to be on the property.

The ordinance prohibits use of immobilizing wheel boots, unless directed by law enforcement.

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.

Several people also complained last summer that their cars were towed from a business on Hilton Head's Main Street while dining at a nearby restaurant. Some said they paid more than $300 to retrieve their cars.

Harkins said regulations would ensure towing operations act fairly and that people are protected from excessive fees.

Companies that violate the ordinance would be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by a $25 to $100 fine or up to 30 days in jail. Those found guilty would be required to reimburse the vehicle's owner for towing and storage charges.

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. Hilton Head Island towing ordinance revisited: Jan. 9, 2012
  4. Town of Hilton Head considering towing ordinance: July 14, 2011

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