Cha-ching!
OOIDA uses trooper dash cam video to uncover tow overcharges, secure refund

By Mark Schremmer, staff writer

Derke Finley, an OOIDA senior member from Clarksville, Ark., never used to spend much time worrying about the issue of third-party towing.

Well, that all changed in February 2014 when Finley’s 2000 Peterbilt jackknifed on an icy roadway on Interstate 40 near Conway, Ark.

Needing the roadway cleared, law enforcement turned to its rotation list and called Pro Auto Wrecker to perform towing and recovery services for Finley’s Peterbilt, as well as another tractor-trailer. Finley had no opportunity to choose which service to use or to quote prices.

Not long after the accident, Pro Auto Wrecker turned in a $12,578 bill for all services relating to Finley’s Peterbilt.

“You don’t think anything like this will happen until it happens,” Finely said. “And when you get the bill, you’re just in shock.”

Shock soon transformed into reality.

“It almost bankrupted me,” Finley said. “I had to get into a company truck for a couple years before I could get back into my own truck.”

Luckily, Finley persevered. Behind the scenes, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association was doing the same. Convinced that Finley was being overcharged for services, OOIDA began to investigate.

Pro Auto Wrecker charged $2,925 each for the use of two heavy-duty wreckers. OOIDA had reason to believe that Pro Auto had only one wrecker on the scene, however.

OOIDA turned to the Freedom of Information Act to acquire 911 logs and a trooper’s dash camera video. After OOIDA shared the video with the Arkansas Towing and Recovery Board, the board investigated the matter further and pulled a second trooper’s dash-cam video.

Through the investigation, the board determined that a second heavy wrecker was not used and that Pro Auto also overcharged for “supervisor” fees and for the number of hours worked. Pro Auto was ordered to reimburse $5,615 of the bill and to pay a $2,000 civil penalty.

The reimbursement paid for overcharges to insurance and out-of-pocket expenses. More than two years after the accident, Finley is set to receive a check for $4,939.

“I really appreciate OOIDA helping me with this,” Finley said. “I never thought anything would come of it. I thought I was being ripped off, and there was nothing I could do about it. You kind of feel helpless. Thank God for OOIDA.”

Finley’s story exposes the reasons OOIDA has been battling fraudulent bills in the towing industry. A single overcharged towing bill could put a truck driver out of business.

Fortunately, Finley avoided that fate.

“We’re very happy with the outcome,” said Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s director of state legislative affairs. “Our member was taken advantage of during what was already a stressful situation. The refund won’t make him whole, but it should help and hopefully he never has to go through anything like this again.”