Pricey truck tow bills get tower barred from Joplin

| 6/13/2011

The Missouri Attorney General has restricted a Kansas City-based tower from working in Joplin following several complaints of price gouging and deceptive business practices.

Because of some controversial tow bills, Independence Tow & Recovery has been banned at least temporarily from working in Joplin as the south Missouri city continues to recover from the recent EF5 tornado.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a legal petition for a restraining order against the Kansas City, MO-based tower last week. The order temporarily prevents Independence Tow & Recovery from working in Joplin, and from “disposing or relocating any of the vehicles towed without written authorization of the owner, and from disposing any documents related to the towing,” court documents state.

Brad Richardson, who described himself as a representative of Independence Tow & Recovery, said his company is being vilified unfairly.

“There’s always two sides to every story. This has nothing to do with the people of Joplin,” Richardson told Land Line Magazine Monday. “This is about out-of-state trucking companies not wanting to pay their bills.”

According to Koster’s filing, Independence Tow & Recovery uprighted and towed several trucks from the Flying J truck stop in Joplin following the mid-May tornado. One trucking company, A&A Express, authorized Independence Tow & Recovery to “upright” a truck, though the tower did not give the trucking company a price quote. The company believed the bill would probably cost $2,000 to $3,000. Instead, the company was billed $12,400.

Independence Tow & Recovery later contacted A&A Express, and said “failure to pay $12,400 would result in the motor vehicle being towed to Kansas City, Missouri, and would result in higher fees and storage costs,” the AG’s filing reads.

A&A later negotiated the bill down to $8,400.

A different company made arrangements with a specific wrecker service from Springfield, MO, to upright and tow its truck from the Joplin Flying J. Independence Tow & Recovery towed the truck to its storage lot in Kansas City, however, before either the Springfield tower or the trucking client were aware, court documents state.

The tower billed the trucking company $12,243, which was considerably above the $3,000 the trucking company expected to pay. A line item bill allegedly included hazardous chemicals cleanup, debris and other charges, though a  company driver for the client said no such cleanup was performed and “the total process took approximately twenty minutes,” the filing shows.

Independence Tow & Recovery did not have a license to conduct business in Joplin, Koster stated, a violation of city ordinance.

The story about the tow bills made headlines across the Midwest last weekend as one of several examples of price gouging following the Joplin tornado’s astounding wreckage.

Richardson described the Flying J scene of at least 30 trucks rolled over or partially crushed following the tornado.

“We never left the Flying J,” he said. “We never dealt with one trucking company from Joplin.”

Attorney Nicholas Porto issued a statement on behalf of the towing company.

“Independence Tow and Recovery was lawfully dispatched to Joplin to recover semi-tractor trailers that were damaged in the wake of the devastating tornado.  Any exploitation of the victims of this horrific event is reprehensible. My client takes the Attorney General’s allegations very seriously and denies any and all wrongdoing in this regard.”

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Editor’s note: For more on the topic of tow bills, read Land Line Magazine November 2009 article titled “Anatomy of a killer tow bill.”