DETROIT (WXYZ) - The owner of a local trucking firm is accusing a towing company of taking advantage of a tragedy.
It involves that horrible chain reaction crash on I-75 and Springwells that claimed three lives.
The owner of a truck involved in the crash says she was slapped with a $10,000 towing bill from a company that tows for the Michigan State Police.
The police told her she had to use their authorized towing company, Boulevard and Trumbull. Her truck was impounded and full of freight. The only way to get it out was to pay this bill which she says was outrageous.
"I laughed. I honestly laughed. I thought someone in the office was joking," said Jaime Redmond, referring to when she first heard about the bill.
Then she actually saw the invoice from Boulevard and Trumbull Towing: $10,250. Her laughter turned to outrage.
"I think that they're trying to profit off of a horrible accident…the longer we sat there that day, we were disgusted by it," said Redmond.
That day was January 31. The location was I-75 and Springwells.
A sudden white-out caused a horrible chain reaction crash leaving three people dead and a tangled mess that closed the freeway for hours.
Among the trucks involved was one belonging to D. R. Logistics, a trucking company owned by Redmond and her husband.
"Our truck was able to come to a stop before he hit anyone and then everyone behind him just kind of slid into him essentially. So we were at the front of the pack," Redmond said.
Redmond immediately sent her regular towing company, Byers towing, to retrieve her truck.
When Bill Byers arrived at the scene, he saw a wall of tow trucks belonging to one company, Boulevard and Trumbull towing, blocking traffic.
"You know our driver was very shaken up, but he seems to remember that the tow company was there before the police were, blocking everyone off," said Redmond.
Byers tow truck was blocked too. A state trooper told him that Boulevard and Trumbull would be towing everything and that he would have to leave. Redmond's truck was towed to B&T's lot and held overnight.
The next morning, she sent Byers to retrieve her semi. It was loaded with freight that had to be delivered.
"We had no choice but to use Boulevard. And then we had no choice to get our truck out. And then we get this bill. And I almost have to imagine that maybe they knew that," said Redmond.
One heavy duty towing contractor who asked not to be named told 7 Action News "ten grand is ridiculous for something that is not rolled over."
"You know, looking at this bill you would essentially think that you were dealing with a truck that is crumpled up, it's flipped over, and that just wasn't the case at all."
Byers towing said they would have charged Redmond about $3,500, a third of what she actually paid.
So why couldn't Redmond use her own company?
Boulevard and Trumbull has a contract with the Michigan State Police giving them exclusive towing rights on most of the freeways in the City of Detroit.
According the state police, if you get into an accident on a city freeway, you can only use your own towing company if your car is not blocking traffic. If traffic is blocked, you have to use Boulevard and Trumbull and you pay what they charge.
State Police Lieutenant Bob Honey told 7 Action News that because the freeway was closed by this crash, the trooper should have allowed Byers Towing to take Redmond's semi. He also said Boulevard and Trumbull's bill "seems kind of extreme."
Boulevard and Trumbull owner Gasper Fiore declined an on camera interview. A company spokesman offered sympathy for the crash victims. He wouldn't talk about specifics of the $10,250 bill but said the company stands behind the charges.
"We had dozens of folks, our employees, on the scene. We worked the scene all day," said company spokesman Kenneth Coleman.
"We certainly feel like we provided great work, we've been commended for that work by the way, by MDOT, and so, we just have a difference of opinion," Coleman said.
Gasper Fiore, Boulevard and Trumbull's owner, is a politically-connected guy with a golden touch for landing government contracts. Fiore dominates the Detroit Police towing business. He also tows for Wayne County.. He rents two warehouses to Detroit Police and leases another building to the Michigan Department of Corrections. And those courtesy vans that you see patrolling the freeways; Fiore has that contract too.
The 7 Action News Investigators filed a Freedom of Information request asking Michigan State Police for names of other victims in this crash to see if any others had issues with their towing bills. They denied our request saying the information is private.
Redmond suspects there are other unhappy customers from the January 31 accident.
"There's no way that we could have been the only company that this happened to. There were several other semi trucks that were involved. And how much money did this guy make off of it?"
If you were involved in the crash and
towed, we'd like to hear from you.
State police also declined to go on camera. A spokesman told 7 Action News that towers are expected to charge according to industry standards. Lieutenant Bob Shaw said that if the State Police get multiple complaints on excessive charges they investigate. But Shaw said they don't get many complaints about excessive towing bills and they haven't gotten any complaints about Boulevard and Trumbull Towing.