Police purge 'ghost' sites from tow list 5 'garages' dropped because no facilities existed at locations

Accident, crime scenes served

Licenses not renewed after Sun disclosure of improper addresses

August 01, 1998|By Walter F. Roche Jr. | Walter F. Roche Jr.,SUN STAFF

Baltimore police have stripped five sites from the department's official list of towing garages after an investigation showed that the garages either did not exist or did not meet minimum standards.

Maj. John J. McEntee Jr. said in an interview yesterday that a new list of police-authorized police towing garages becomes effective today. The garages on the department list, known officially as the Tow Board, share in the $1.5 million-a-year business of towing vehicles from crime and accident scenes throughout Baltimore.

Vehicle owners are ultimately responsible for the towing fees.

Under police regulations and procedures, the garage on the list closest to an accident or crime scene is to be called to tow vehicles.

But The Sun reported in April that many of the sites on the department list were "ghost" garages. One of them, on Fleet Street in East Baltimore, was a liquor store. A vacant lot, the parking lot of an auto parts store and a used car lot were also listed.

Sun surveillance over several months showed that many of the tow trucks were being dispatched from other locations, often many miles from the official sites.

McEntee said one of the companies, Berman's Towing, which had a license to operate from three locations, will be limited to a single site in the northwest corner of the city on Menlo Drive off Reisterstown Road. Berman's old sites, at 1300 W. Cross St., 2801 W. Belvedere Ave. and in the 2200 block of Reisterstown Road, which The Sun found in April were ghost garages, were dropped from the list.

Also dropped from the list was the site of the Fleet Street liquor store, formerly listed as a garage operated by Frankford Towing. Frankford won approval to operate from a new location across the street from the package store. Frankford also won approval to continue operating from two other sites, at 6700 Quad Ave. and 4519 Harford Road.

Due for renewal

McEntee said one other site, Cherry Hill Towing at 700 Cherry Hill Road, was dropped from the list because of noncompliance,

A sixth site dropped from the Tow Board was relinquished voluntarily by Tart's Towing because the company wanted to leave the program, McEntee said.

Because the towing licenses were up for renewal, he said, the police decided that "the most efficient way to deal with the situation was to not renew the licenses." He said that imposing any penalties would have required a long legal process, including hearings. In the past, the only penalties imposed have been temporary suspensions from the program.

M. Albert Figinski, the attorney for Berman's, said the company plans to reapply for the sites that were denied. "The department is aware of our terrific response rate. We will be reapplying," Figinski said.

Licensing delay

McEntee said the review of the towing garages proved to be "more involved than anyone anticipated." As a result, the department delayed issuing new licenses for two months.

He said garage sites have to meet minimum requirements including spaces to park cars, a phone and a properly equipped tow truck on duty during regular business hours. He also said the department plans to add to the regulations to ensure that the tow sites are in compliance with city zoning regulations.

Pending applications

McEntee said the department might add other garages if the new list results in delays in getting cars towed. He said several companies have pending applications.

"We'll see how it works out," he said.

McEntee also said the department has decided to stop giving towing medallions -- indicating a company is licensed for police towing -- to companies not on the Tow Board. He said towing companies don't need the medallions to operate in the city and that it is unclear why they had been issued to companies not on the Tow Board.

Pub Date: 8/01/98

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