Families couldn't find their cars, and some paid more than $400 to get them back
NAPLES — A patch of pavement and area around an abandoned house near the entrance to Grimes Glen Park in Naples has proved to be a nightmare for people who parked there — and returned from the park to find their car gone without a trace.
There aren’t any “No Parking” signs there and nothing saying it’s a “Tow Away Zone” like there is along Vine Street that ends at the park. But vehicles have been towed away from the area, and some people had to pay more than $400 to get them back.
The situation is upsetting a lot of people, including Vine Street residents and local officials. The Naples town supervisor filed a complaint with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office, and people whose vehicles have been removed are urged to report it.
“People are coming out of the glen to find their car gone, not knowing if it has been stolen or towed,” said Vine Street resident Larry Letteney.
Last Sunday, Letteney's neighbor talked to a couple wandering down the street with their children, desperately looking for their car. His neighbor knew where towed vehicles were a few blocks away on West Avenue and drove the family there. The tow truck operator demanded more than $400 to release the car. Letteney and his wife, Peggy, know of other neighbors, too, who have witnessed people in distress and helped them reclaim their vehicles. They said there isn’t any signage telling people what to do or where to go.
They worry about the people walking out of the glen without their vehicles — which also means they may be without their cell phones, medications, and other belongings they might have locked in their vehicles. Larry said the situation also puts the village at risk.
“If a couple in their 80s visits the glen on a 90-degree day and has to wander around looking for their car, and they don't survive in the heat on a Sunday afternoon, the village residents will pay,” he said.
Village Mayor Brian Schenk said the problem is the area where the people are being towed from isn’t village property. It’s private property.
“None of this towing has anything to do with village ordinance,” he said.
Two years ago, the village addressed a parking problem around the glen by putting up the “No Parking, Tow Away Zone” signs along Vine Street. Residents had complained about people parking on private property and the village needed to ensure a clear path for emergency vehicles. Since then, there hasn’t been a problem on the street and people respect the signs, Schenk said. But the village has no authority when it comes to the private property at issue.
That private property includes the abandoned house and a paved section adjacent to it. The paved section looks like an offshoot of Vine Street, with Dead End signs. But years ago, a bridge was taken out and the road right-of-way became privately owned, said Naples Code Enforcement Officer Frank Mueller.
Eric Lang, president of Bald Hill Automotive, said the property owner called on Bald Hill to remove vehicles parked on his property after exhausting other avenues of preventing people from parking there. The owner told him he has tried rock and rope barriers and people just remove them. According to Lang, the owner checked with law enforcement and was told they couldn’t write parking tickets there.
The property owner could not be reached for comment.
According to Lang, what he is doing is legal because it’s on private property. He said he isn’t responsible for putting up signs and the owner said he doesn’t want to. The owner has “every right to say 'get that car out of here,'” according to Lang, who added “every impound is reported to the 911 center.”
Lang said what he is doing is an “impound,” not a “tow.” That is why the fee is so high. His rate for an impound ranges from $300 to over $400.
“The cost of things is not cheap these days,” he said. An impound means it’s a “tow without keys” so it requires using “state-of-the-art equipment,” he said. They can’t go inside the car and it must be moved without a scratch. Impounds require “winching and a whole bunch of labor,” and “there’s a high risk of confrontation,” Lang said.
Naples Town Supervisor Tamara Hicks said she filed a complaint with the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office about the matter. She said people who are victims need to report it.
Lt. Greg Shaffer, of the Ontario County Sheriff’s Criminal Investigation Division, urged those who have had vehicles towed to come forward. “We are aware and trying to find victims to initiate an investigation,” Shaffer said.
People should call the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office at 585 396-4638.