State law at center of downtown towing tussle

An Evansville woman claims she was the victim of "predatory towing" by a downtown business owner and local wrecker service after she was forced to pay $125 to a tow truck driver who had boxed her car into a parking space. At issue is the interpretation of a state law which allows private property owners to tow abandoned vehicles if the vehicle interferes physically with normal business operations.

Jill Kincaid said she went downtown early Saturday morning to cheer on those competing in the half marathon. The race and ongoing construction downtown left a scarcity of available parking spaces, she said. After circling Main Street several times, Kincaid opted to park at Zuki's lot around 8 o'clock that morning. The sushi and hibachi restaurant has a small parking lot adjacent to their storefront. It opens at 11 a.m.

After approximately 30 to 45 minutes, Kincaid returned to her vehicle and noticed a tow truck from Red's Roadside Assistance parked behind her vehicle. This happened still long before the business opened, she said.

"I said, 'I'm sorry. That's my car. I'll move it for you right now,'" Kincaid said. "He said, 'no you don't. You're parking in a no parking zone and I'm not going to let you leave until you pay me.'"

Kincaid said she paid the tow truck driver the $125 fee plus a 6% surcharge because she used a debit card.

"When you're standing there with your grandson and [the two truck driver] says, 'I'm not letting you out unless you pay me $125,' it felt like extortion," Kincaid said. "I had no choice. It was almost like bullying."

Zuki does have three "customer only" parking signs which state the lot is monitored 24 hours a day. In very small letters, the signs state cars will be towed at the owner's expense. However, the signs are only posted on on side of the lot.

Kincaid came in the other side, she said.

According to Indiana state law, a private property owner may pay to have an abandoned vehicle towed if the vehicle has been abandoned for at least 24 hours. A written notice is supposed to be left on the vehicle as well. However, state law allows private property owners to have a vehicle towed immediately in an emergency situation.

The state law defines emergency situation as the presence of the vehicle is believed to be abandoned interferes physically with the conduct of normal business operations or if the presence of the vehicle poses a threat to the safety and security of persons or property.

"At 8 a.m. on Saturday morning when they don't open for several hours and no one is there staff-wise, I think they would have trouble proving that it was an emergency," Kincaid said.

Shawn Stewart, a waiter at Zuki's, defended his employer's parking and towing policies. The policies are necessary to prevent people from parking in the restaurant's lot without patronizing the eatery.

"A lot of the times people that work or go to other places downtown tend to park in our limited parking lot. It's very small," Stewart said. "When your guests come by here and see a full lot, they continue to go on."

Stewart said the signs have been posted for two years. However, the agreement between Red's Roadside Assistance and Zuki appears to be only a few months old.

Numerous posts on restaurant review Facebook pages as well as Yelp have been critical of the restaurant and the tow company. One man alleged that his car was towed from Zuki even though he was a customer at the restaurant.

"If you're coming to Zuki, feel free to park there. If you're not, you got to do it like everybody else does and find another spot," Stewart said. "It sounds kind of harsh but we're all trying to make money down here."

After this report was published, Josh Nunn, the owner of Red's Roadside Assistance told Eyewitness News Kincaid's vehicle was spotted in Zuki's lot during a routine check early Saturday morning. Additionally, the reason Kincaid was charged was because her vehicle had already been hooked up by the tow driver, which leaves the company liable if any damage were to occur. Nunn also stated additional signage has been posted on Zuki's parking lot warning people that if they park on the lot without patronizing the business, they runt he risk of being towed. Nunn stated neither his company nor Zuki are engaged in any sort of predatory towing.

Nunn also insisted that his business does not receive monetary compensation from Zuki as part of its contract.


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