Sleepy after arriving home from a cross-country seafood delivery, independent trucker Johnnie Wheeler never dreamed his 18-wheeler would be towed from the parking lot he had used for years -- and that he would be charged $910 to get it back.
But the Woodlawn resident awoke Sunday afternoon to find his illegally parked luxury truck gone from Liberty Crest Shopping Center, replaced by a towing bill from All American Towing that Baltimore County police say was three times the usual rate.
Yesterday, the Cherry Hill towing company, charged earlier this month with using a spotter to detect illegally parked cars and with a truck registration violation, dropped the fee to $600 after Wheeler and police complained.
All American owner Frankie Walls said the trucker should consider himself lucky.
"I did the customer a favor. I gave it back to him for $600," Walls said. Of the $910 bill, he said, "That's the normal charge we charge for an 18-wheeler."
Maryland law prohibits towing companies from charging more than two times the tow fees normally charged in a county, said police spokesman Sgt. Kevin B. Novak. Baltimore County, though, has no specific fees for vehicles weighing more than 1 ton.
Walls said All American charged Wheeler $910 because of "tractor and vehicle prep" fees, towing costs and administration charges.
"We're not gouging him," Walls insisted yesterday.
But Wheeler, 32, was shocked by the initial charge and said he called his mother for help. She called county police. Police conducted an informal cost survey of metropolitan towing companies.
Tauber's Towing of Linthicum, one of the companies surveyed by police, charges no more than $400 to tow an 18-wheeler, said owner Mike Tauber. Ted's Towing of Baltimore, which tows for county police, charges about $300, said supervisor Mike Maynor.
Joel Winegarden, president of Honolulu Ltd., which manages Liberty Crest, said he has a contract with All American to tow illegally parked cars. Winegarden said zoning laws prohibit parking a tractor-trailer in his lot and endorsed the towing.
Wheeler acknowledged parking illegally at Liberty Crest, which is clearly marked with warning signs, but said he has parked his rig there for years with no problems.
Yesterday, after his trucking distributor, H&M Bay Carrier, wired the cash needed to retrieve the tractor-trailer from the All American impound lot, Wheeler reflected on the experience.
"It's outrageous -- highway robbery," said the nine-year veteran of the road.
Pub Date: 11/12/96