This past Saturday night I left a Hartford dance club at just before 2 a.m. closing time and my car had VANISHED from the LAZ parking lot at Church and Ann Streets. I had to find a cab to West Hartford, go to an ATM to get $113 cash, exact amount only, no credit cards accepted, and pay the cabbie $30 cash, to get my car back from West Hartford Auto Center. The Greek-American cabbie told me it's a big scan, and hundreds of cars are towed this way in a scam run by LAZ and carried out by the tow company. Here's the first few paragraphs of my letter to LAZ and the tow company, explaining why the tow was wrongful and why they owe me $133 net ($143 for cab and tow, less $10 parking event charge). Hey, if they refuse, I'll sue them in Small Claims and investigate possible referral of the case to a Class Action specialist.
I want the money back, because I'm retired and want to keep my expenses to the bare essentials, but the experience itself was magical and adventurous for a writer. All is fodder for those who write.
Here's the letter:
March 5, 2012
LAZ Parking Company
[Exact name and address
to be determined from
Hartford tax assessor's
West Hartford Auto Center, LLC
932 New Britain Avenue
West Hartford, CT 06110
Re: Demand for refund of $30 taxi fare and $113 towing charge (total: $143 plus legal
interest for money wrongfully taken), less the $10 I owe you for the Event Charge
for parking in the LAZ parking lot (Total Net Demand: $133 plus legal interest until
you refund the money you wrongfully took from me to get my car back
I am a 62-year-old lawyer whose car was wrongfully and illegally towed from a parking lot at the northeast corner of Ann and Church Streets, Hartford, CT this past Saturday night.
The purpose of this letter is:
(1) to give you a credit for the $10 "Event Parking" fee I owe you for parking my car in the unattended parking lot, AND
(2) to demand a refund of the $30 taxi fare and $113 (total $143 plus interest at the legal rate until my wrongfully witheld money is returned to me) towing charge I incurred to retrieve my car from West Hartford Auto Center at about 3 a.m. that morning.
Please send me $133 to reimburse me for the taxi fare and towing charge I had to pay to get my car back at West Hartford Auto Center, less the $10 Event Charge I owe you for parking in the LAZ parking lot.
Here is why you owe me $133 plus legal interest for money wrongfully held.
I drove up from Middletown and spent time at a club on Main Street from about 10:45 p.m. to midnight last Saturday night. I then drove over to go to another club within a block of your parking lot at Ann and Church. The streets were full of cars. I saw your parking lot, which then had four other cars parked in it, so I drove into your lot, parked my car in the southwest corner of your lot, parallel to Church, facing Ann Street, got out, saw no parking lot attendant in the metal booth on the north end of the lot, and went immediately south on Ann to get to the club which was my destination.
Before I left your lot, I took a quick look around and did not see any sign saying that I could not park in your lot. I figured your attendant had either taken a break, was playing hooky for a while instead of working, or was otherwise occupied. I figured your attendant would probably return and collect the money when I got out of the club or, if he had left by then, put a notice on my windshield of the address to which I should send whatever parking fee I owed for using your lot, which I would have done, of course. I did not see any sign which said "No Trespassing," or "Parking Lot Closed," or "DO NOT PARK HERE OR YOUR CAR WILL BE TOWED." Remember, I'm an OLD man, age 62, with near-sightedness, and I was scanning the lot from the southwest corner, so I did not then see the extremely inconspicuous sign on the south side of the parking attendant's darkened booth, below its window. Not, that is, until much later that evening, after I retrurned to retrieve my car.
Imagine my shock and surprise when I returned to get my car at 1:50 a.m. The lot was EMPTY. My car and the other four cars in your lot were gone! Stolen, I thought, by a car thief. At that moment, I never imagined I was, instead, the victim of a White Collar Criminal LAZ Tow Job Racket. But boy, LAZ and West Hartford Auto Center, was I in for a surprise!
I walked around trying to find a police officer to report my car as stolen but then met a man from Burundi, who now lives in the United States, who speaks French, as I do. We exchanged pleasantries and then he told me that he once parked in the same parking lot and his car had been towed. He said it happens all the time and the towing company and the parking lot operator are in cahoots. He claimed the two companies have a racket going, all over the city of Hartford. These LAZ lots do not have signs conspiculously notifying parkers that they are not allowed to park in the lots and their cars will be towed at great expense and inconvenience to them if they park there.
Imagine my shock and surprise when I heard these allegations, and in French yet, a language of love, not Criminal Racketeering! I immediately wondered to myself, being a former trial lawyer, whether a valid CLASS ACTION might be brought to determine legally whether LAZ and West Hartford Auto Center were involved in a CIVIL CONSPIRACY to entrap unsuspecting parkers into thinking that they could park their cars in these empty, unattended parking lots? Such a cause of CLASS ACTION would include the allegation, to be tested in extensive discovery that the plan all along by LAZ and West Hartford Auto Center was to tow the unsuspecting suckers' cars to West Hartford Auto Center, charge every one of them $113 CASH, NO CREDIT CARDS accepted. Furthermore, the complaint would allege, perhaps LAZ and West Hartford Auto Center split the proceeds of all these towing charges, all for the fun, greed, and criminal profit of the allegedly conspiring civil racketeers, LAZ and West Hartford Auto Center. Such, at least, is what the taxi driver believes, from having gotten many many fares over the years for driving many unsuspecting victims to pick up their towed cars at West Hartford Auto Center.
Anyway, I was very cold and only had a few dollars in my pocket, along with my driver's license. That's because I once had my wallet lifted by a pickpocket in a Middletown club. So now, when I go to clubs, I carry as little cash as possible. Of course, I always carry my driver's license, in the unlikely event I'll be seriously carded. Remember, I'm a Senior Citizen, having reached the advanced age of 62 years.
I excused myself, in proper French, bien sur (of course, in the English), and walked back to the LAZ lot where my car was missing. Now, for the first time, I got close enough to read the FINE PRINT (for my old, 62-year-old eyes) on the two signs on the unattended parking booth in the parking lot where my car was missing. This booth, and the signs are about 75 feet north of the spot where I had parked my car earlier. And my view of the lower half of the south side of the booth had been blocked when I parked earlier by the other four cars which had been parked to the north of my spot in the part of the LAZ lot closest to Church Street.
There were actually three signs, two on the south side of the booth, below the unattended attendant's window, and a much larger sign in a metal frame standing right next to the booth but facing east and west, on the north side of the unattended attendant's booth. I had not seen ANY of these signs when I parked in the lot with the other four cars, also now missing, several hours before. But after I left the club and returned to the Scene of the Scam to look for my car, then vanished, I examined the parking lot at a LAZ pace. Here's what my investigtion revealed:
There were two signs.
There was a small sign on south side of booth.
On the left side of the sign, below the booth's sliding window, it said:
Welcome to Hotel Lot
Operation Hours Mon.-Fri.
6 a.m. to 11 a.m
3 p.m. to 6 p.m
All Vehicles Park at Their Own Risk After Posted Hours
On the right side of the sign, below the booth's sliding window it said:
Parking for LAZ Customers Only
All Others Will be Towed at Owners Expense
24 Hours a Day 7 Days a Week
West Hartford Auto Center
There was another Large Sign, next to the booth. This sign was about 2 feet wide by 4 feet high, with very large letters and it said:
I was happy to know where my car probably was, but pretty perturbed that this was the only sign which the parking lot operator deigned to post for unsuspecting older Senior Citizens like me. It's quite obvious to me now that LAZ has a racket going with West Hartford Auto Center, in which, like taking candy from babies, or shooting deer with an elephant gun in a children's petting zoo, LAZ knows that unsuspecting suckers, I mean parkers, will have their cars towed and have to pay $113 cold cash to get the cars back. And LAZ probably gets some share of that $113 per car towing charge times however many hundreds of cars are towed each week from all the empty, unattended LAZ lots. One would think that a legitimate LAZ business person would have the common courtesy to post a very large, conspicuous sign at the entrance to the parking lot, saying: "If You Park Here, Your Car WILL Be Towed to West Hartford and It WILL Cost You $113 in CASH, EXACT AMOUNT ONLY, NO CREDIT CARDS, to Get Your Car Back."
My cell phone confirms I called West Hartford Auto Center at 2:27 a.m. to verify they had my car. The man there notified me that I would have to give them $113 in cash to get it back. And no, he said, they would not take a credit card. Cash only, all others don't get their cars back. That was an offer I could not refuse, given the fact I was an old man shivering in the cold night air, with no other way to get home that night.
I went back and found the nice French-speaking man from Burundi with the Chicago Bulls hat. I tried to convince his friend to drive me to West Hartford to get my wallet from the glove compartment of my car, at West Hartford Auto Center, then find an ATM to get $113 in cash, and then return to the tow place to retrieve my car. As nice as the man from Burundi was, his friend said it was just an easy jump onto 91 South from Ann and Church Street and then 20 minutes back to Meriden, where they live. So, I inferred from that little digression that Monsieur Burundi's friend was not interested in giving the helping hand of friendship to a French-speaking Old Man from Middletown who was standing there in the night-time cold, shivering, desperately trying to figure out how long it might take to walk to West Hartford Auto Center.
After saying goodbye ("Bonne nuit.") in French to Monsieur Burundi, I walked off to find (hopefully) a taxi to take me to get my car. I was concerned I might have to sleep on the cold, hard, heartless streets of Hartford for the night because I feared I did not have enough cash in my pocket to pay what I figured would be the likely cab fare to West Hartford.
After wandering around in the concrete jungle of Hartford, I spied a taxi and ran over and got in after the Greek-American cabbie unlocked the door. He had a mean-looking smooth-haired Pit Bull inside the driver's plastic-enclosed booth. The cab was a large vehicle, more like a large SUV than a standard-issue yellow cab. He asked me if I was afraid of dogs. I said only Pit Bulls. "But Princess is very friendly, as long as I don't get upset. Then Princess goes wild and can bite a man's hand off. Probably even his head," reassuringly (I guess) said the cabbie. Before I could say whether I was reassured, Princess jumped over the plastic enclosure and started licking me all over my face and nibbling at my hands and fingers. I was, frankly, scared sh-tless, but did not, in fact, relieve my lower intestine of its contents until I got home after springing my car from the auto center. Fortunately, the cabbie and I got along famously. No barking, no biting. By either the two of us men or, fortunately, Princess the Pit Bull.
Upon my arrival at West Hartford Auto Center, there was a girl and boy, early 20's, arguing with the tow driver about whether he could release her grandmother's car to them if they paid the towing charge of $113. He claimed he could only release a vehicle to its lawful owner. The girl had long dark hair, a very short dress, and over-knee high booties. The young man she was with was argumentative. "Look, dude. We have the keys to the car. We MUST be in lawful possession. Dude, just give us the fucking car," demanded the young man. The tow truck operator, who was dealing with 5 other victims of the towing scam between LAZ and the auto center, told the young man to "chill out" or he might never get his friend's grandmother's car back. That sort of tells you how the eveing went.
Another scam victim (this man had parked his car near a Main Street, Hartford club, not in the same lot I parked in farther west) did not have exactly $113 and needed change from one of his twenties. A man with this other victim was so angry that the tow driver kicked him out of the warm office at West Hartford Auto Center. But the driver then made change with the other young man whose VW Jetta it was which had been towed from another LAZ lot.
Finally, I paid my tribute to the scam, $113 in cold hard currency, sprung my Outback from its West Hartford Auto Center prison, and returned to the Scene of the Scam, at Church and Ann. There I made a careful investigation of the weenie signage in the LAZ lot, and got angry. Why, I thought, doesn't LAZ either have an attendant stand by at the lot, collecting $10 for Event Parking, or erect a very conspicuous sign which informs would-be parkers that they will pay dearly (a tow and a $113 bill, and a taxi fare of $30) if they even THINK of parking there. Also, the sign on the parking booth which says, "All Vehicles Park at Their Own Risk After Posted Hours" implies that people are welcome, invited even, to park their cars in the lot after the parking lot closes, at their own risk. Whether or not a fee must be paid for that privilege is not addressed by any of the signs.
A reasonable person reading all the posted signs would conclude that he or she had a business invitation to park in the lot, after hours, at his or her own risk. Also, from the "$10 Event Charge signage," which is the largest, most conspicuous sign in the lot, a reasonable person would conclude that the charge for after-hours parking is $10, to be paid after usage of the lot by personal check sent to LAZ. In my case, since you owe me $143 for the taxi charge plus the towing charge, I am paying you the $10 by offset against my damages from the tow of my car.
Please contact me at your earliest convenience, either directly or through your attorneys, about when I can expect a refund of the $133 net damages you owe me, with interest. Or, if you do not agree you owe me the money, please let me know that as soon as possible so I can put my cause of action into litigation against you in Middlesex Superior Court, Small Claims Session.
Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
Very truly yours,
Robert P. Dutcher
Encs: Receipt for Road Service from West Hartford Auto Center, LLC
Receipt for taxi cab fare (the cabbie made me write out my own receipt on his