Monday, May 26, 2008

Citizens Scammed, Towed And Uncompensated In Birmingham, Alabama

Flickr.com photo

Here is a great story with lots of local color, about a "crawfish boil" that started out as a lot of fun...until a bunch of citizens got towed in a scam...

Click here for a link to the original story, reproduced below with comment.

Birmingham Parking Authority maintenance employee fired after being accused of orchestrating parking scam.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

By JEREMY GRAY

News staff writer

A maintenance worker with the Birmingham Parking Authority was fired, authority officials said, because he directed people to park on a private lot and collected fees from drivers attending the Schaeffer Eye Center Crawfish Boil on Friday.

Birmingham police identified the employee as Edward McCray. Parking authority executive director Lynn Thomas said McCray, who had been employed by the authority for several years, was on duty and using a parking authority vehicle at the time he collected money at 22nd Street and Seventh Avenue North. He then directed cars into a lot owned by the company that manages the Park Place housing community, Thomas said.

(How strange is it his name is "McCray?" Crawfish are also known as crayfish. Maybe everything in Edward McCray's life has been leading to this moment of crayfish notoriety. Did he do it for the sake of the crayfish. OK, it's doubtful. All the same...what an odd little coincidence!)

"He had no business going on private property. We have zero tolerance for stealing," Thomas said.

(How sad he feels the need to state that last part, like maybe it's a revision of the former "you can steal a little bit" policy)

Many people returned to the lot that evening to find their cars had been towed. Some reported paying $200 to retrieve their cars from an impound lot.

A co-owner of the company that towed cars that night said only about 40 cars were towed. Some victims of the towing put that number at more than a 100.

McCray was detained by police, said Birmingham police spokesman Lt. Henry Irby. He was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor related to outstanding traffic violations, Irby said.

McCray has not been charged in the Friday incident, Irby said, because none of the victims had come forward to police.

Several of the people whose cars were towed have said they gave money for parking to a person they thought represented the parking authority.

Carrie Boyce, an 18-year-old McAdory High School senior, paid $5 to park on the lot about 5:30 p.m. When she and her friends got ready to leave about 11 p.m., their car was gone.

Others, including Angela Taylor, followed a steady flow of cars that continued to enter the lot after police arrested McCray at 6:30 p.m. Cars still were being towed when she, her husband and three teenage sons left the Crawfish Boil about 11.

(Oh, my word. Despite learning of the scam, the authorities didn't try to stop the towing! And, to make matters worse, this "crayfish boil" was a charity event. Here is a link about the event, which really sounds like a lot of fun and helpful to a good cause)

"Why didn't someone put a chain back up or why wasn't someone there to tell people they couldn't park there?" Taylor said. "It just seems like such a rip-off. Anything would have been better than just towing all those cars."

On Saturday, the second day of the festival, the owners of the property opened the lot to the public.

LaVeeda Morgan Battle, attorney for the parking authority, said the matter is under investigation and she could not comment.

No provisions for reimbursing those whose vehicles were towed have been made by the parking authority, property owners, the towing company or the city of Birmingham.

Gordon Williams, co-owner of B&G Towing, which towed several of the cars, said any reimbursement would have to come from someone else.

Rick White, a spokesman for the property managers, said he did not believe they would be giving reimbursements because the money went to the towing company.

"The Birmingham Parking Authority is a separate entity, we don't have any liability," said Deborah Vance, Mayor Larry Langford's chief of staff. "They are not city of Birmingham employees. They are Birmingham Parking Authority employees."

Larry Ward, chairman of the parking authority board, said the issue could come up at the board's May 15 meeting. "The board will have to look at that."

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Well, as you might suspect, this matter did not just go away. Click here for a link to another article about this matter. (I'm undecided whether to call it a "controversy" or a "scandal" so I'm just going to label it a "rip off." Here is the text of that article, below, with commentary.

Click here for yet ANOTHER article about the scandal. As one woman put it, $200 is food for her family for a week. She has cried and cried over this.

The real question I have is not whether McCray guy is guilty and will be prosecuted. It certainly looks like it. The real question is who will be giving all these people back their towing fees? I plan to send a few emails and make some inquiries.

However, once again this is a good argument for more advanced technological systems so drivers could get "pinged" and warned of an impending tow. What happened here was the result of a scam, but with big events like the Schaeffer Eye Center Crawfish Boil (truly a monumental event!) there is plenty of opportunity for confusion when it comes to where people are allowed to park.

And what happens, then? A wonderful night turns into a serious downer. And if you're from out-of-town, would you ever want to attend an event in Birmingham again?

2 comments:

Robert Emerick, Operation New Birmingam said...

This particular incident was an absolute scam..not a conspiracy. Some unscrupulous son-of-a (insert appropriate word here) got a bright idea and made off with some nice change..he should be prosecuted for it.

Unfortunately, it's going to be difficult to assign responsibility regarding compensation, or whether compensation is even warranted ( I realize the folks that got towed think it is). The Parking Authority fired the guy and charges will most likely be pressed. The Park Place lot is private...clearly the property manager misjudged the situation...but it was private property. As near as anyone can tell, the City was not involved at all in the matter.

Please allow me to set the record straight on one issue. While downtown Birmingham is certainly not Park Avenue on the weekends, it's not a "ghost town" either (I've been to a few ghost towns...this ain't one of 'em). True, we don't have a shopping mall, but we have lots of museums, cultural attractions and an increasing number of coffee shops, restaurants and nightclubs.
Events like the Crawfish Boil, which drew about 30,000 folks this year...and City Stages, a downtown music festival that takes place on Father's day weekend and draws about 160,000..... are long standing events. Nothing like this has ever happened before. The truth is, there are lots of folks downtown for these kinds of events and parking is at a premium.
So what should someone coming downtown for an event do?

1) Watch where you park. Most private parking lots are, in fact, well marked with NO PARKING signs that indicate those parking illegally will be towed. Believe the signs!

2) Enterprising property owners sometimes open their lots for special event parking. Those lots are usually well marked with signage and staffed with reputable personnel.

3) Consider parking in one of the Birmingham Parking Authority decks. There are several in easy walking distance of most of downtown. They're monitored, clean, well-lit and parking rates are reasonable. I can promise you that $8 or $10 for special event parking is a lot less than a $200 towing bill.

Finally...it’s very sad that some folks had a bad experience, which will negatively impact their perception of Downtown Birmingham. Fortunately, there were several thousand others that had a great time with no incidence.
People that come to downtown Birmingham are most often quite impressed...it's clean, it's beautiful and there's lots to do....even on the weekends. If you haven't been here, let me invite you to come down and check it out yourself.

Johnny T. Utopia said...

Well, thanks for the invite, Robert. I used to work in Luray, Virginia at the national park and I love the South, BUT--!

Until those people get their hard- earned money back, then there is an injustice in the universe. And nothing eats at me like towing injustice.

So if I've got suffering people who want to tell me their horror stories of getting ripped off in downtown Birmingham, Alabama and mention in passing that downtown Birmingham, Alabama is a ghost town on the weekends, well, www.towingutopia.com is a free forum in a free country.

I'm ready to sit right here and listen to all the griping in the world about downtown Birmingham, as long as it relates back to towing injustice.

Can "Operation New Birmingham" do something to see those people get justice?