DETROIT (WXYZ) - First came the crash, then the explosion, then the biggest blow of all; the towing bill.
The owner of a local company is crying foul saying she was charged way too much to clean up the wreckage after one of her trucks got into an accident on the freeway.
The towing company involved is Boulevard and Trumbull. 7 Action News Investigator Scott Lewis looked into the bills and found some questionable charges.
What makes this case especially troubling is that the company involved is towing under contract for the Michigan State Police, and has a monopoly on freeways in the city of Detroit. Boulevard and Trumbull is operated by Gasper Fiore a controversial and politically connected guy who has a slew of government contracts.
Last December a semi belonging to Arrow Chemical Products, jackknifed, slammed into the median, exploded, and burned, sending chunks of concrete into the opposite lane. It was a spectacular crash.
Arrow Chemical owner Nanci Wallace was shaken when she heard about the accident but relieved to find out nobody was hurt. The real shocker came when she got the towing bill from Boulevard and Trumbull Towing.
"My jaw hit the ground. I couldn't even believe what I was hearing," Wallace said
We'll tell you how much that bill was in a minute, but, first, If this story feels like a bit of Déjà Vu, there's a reason.
This is the second time in recent months that the owner of a local company has raised questions about a Boulevard and Trumbull towing bill.
A couple of months back, the 7 Action News Investigators exposed a similar case involving a horrific chain reaction crash on I-75. A white-out caused the pile up that left three people dead. Jamie Redmond's Semi was near the head of the crash, and suffered relatively minor damage. She says she was stunned when she got the bill from Boulevard and Trumbull for towing her truck just three miles to their storage yard.
It was more $10,000.
"I think that they're trying to profit off of a horrible accident." Redmond told 7 Action News in February.
But Nanci Wallace says she would have been thrilled to pay $10,000. She explains how things went down when she called Boulevard and Trumbull to get the bottom line so her insurance company could cut them a check.
"And he said twenty-six. I said okay, great, I'll have them write a check for twenty-six hundred dollars. And he said no, no, no, twenty-six thousand dollars."
That's right, $26,000 to haul away a semi truck that wasn't even overturned. When Wallace started studying the bill, she found some things that looked fishy. For one thing, they charged her for four hours of work. But the accident happened just before 2 p. m. and the freeway was completely open and cleaned up by shortly after 4 p. m.
"How could there be four hours? (It) Doesn't add up," said Wallace.
And something else that didn't add up. They charged her $1200 dollars for a hazmat scene manager. Hazmat means hazardous materials.
"There was nothing hazardous on the truck. It was water based concrete cleaners," Wallace said.
And, Wallace says, not a drop of the cleaner spilled during the crash.
Boulevard and Trumbull did use a loader and a dump truck to scoop up the big chunks of concrete, but how could that take four hours?
And what really stuck in Wallace's craw, was a $2,250 charge for a street sweeper.
"The only street sweeper my guys saw was a gentleman pushing a broom," Wallace said.
To get to the bottom of this, the 7 Action News investigators tracked down a former Boulevard and Trumbull employee who handled the Arrow Chemical crash. He has since left the towing company but we caught with him on the way into work at his new job.
"The reason I want to talk to you is that you were there, you did the work, right?" asked Scott Lewis.
"Yup," said the former employee who offered his first name only, Frank.
"How about a street sweeper? Did you have a street sweeper down there?" asked Lewis.
"I didn't see one and I didn't know we had one…if that's what you're asking frank replied."
"And did you clean the debris up with a broom and a shovel?, Lewis asked.
"Do I look like I push a broom?" Frank replied.
"Somebody did?" asked Lewis.
"Ya," frank replied.
Remember, Arrow Chemical was billed for four hours of work and equipment. The man who was on the scene confirms he was only there for about two hours.
"Did you need a hazmat scene manager? There was only soap on the truck," Lewis asked.
"Really, Scott, you know I can't say nothing about that," Frank responded.
Boulevard and Trumbull declined to go on camera, instead they issued a written statement which does not address specific discrepancies we found in their bill to Arrow Chemicals.
The statement says: "Boulevard and Trumbull Towing adheres to and follows industry standards as a qualified first response, heavy duty towing, recovery, and incident management specialist. We stand by our billing and conduct ourselves with dedication and professionalism 24 hours a day/ 365 days a year.
With more than 30 years of experience, we have been recognized and commended for our work across the metropolitan Detroit area, the state and the nation."
But Nanci Wallace and Jamie Redmond, the two business owners with the towing bill sticker shock, don't see it that way. What really irks both of them is that they had no choice but to use Boulevard and Trumbull Towing. The company has a contract with the Michigan State Police giving them exclusive towing rights on all freeways within the city limits of Detroit. And that contract does not spell out what the company can charge for its services.
"And I think that the State of Michigan should be ashamed that they're allowing this to go on," Wallace said.
But the 7 Action News Investigators have learned that the State Police are planning to tighten things up. Just last week area towing contractors were called to the state police post in Oak Park. MSP is putting towing contracts out for re-bidding on all Detroit area freeways. It appears that a lot of companies will be bidding, including Boulevard and Trumbull and other towing companies controlled or operated by Gasper Fiore.
State Police spokesman, Lieutenant Mike Shaw, says the new contracts will have set prices for towing on area freeways. That's something that they didn't have in the past.
A towing contractor who attended the bid meeting told 7 Action News he thinks the new fixed prices will protect consumers from being gouged and still allow towing companies to turn a profit.
It will be interesting to see which companies land these new contracts and whether the new pricing standards put an end to consumer complaints about gouging.