ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A Rio Rancho towing company kept a local man's car for more than five months before notifying him last month it had the vehicle.
Then when Sumner Swartz, 20, and his father went to re-claim the car, the company tried to charge them more than the car was worth in storage fees and swore at them before returning the vehicle for a fraction of those fees.
"They told me to bring the title down," said Randall Swartz, Sumner's father. "I says, 'No. Something's wrong here. We're not going to give them the title.' "
The ordeal began in October when Sumner Swartz's 1997 Honda Civic disappeared after spending the summer working on the car.
"That was my hobby," he said. "I was really bummed that all my work is, like, just stolen."
Swartz reported the car stolen, filed a police report and heard nothing more about it until a certified letter arrived at his parents' home, where he lives, on March 11. The letter said A-1 Autow Recovery had towed the car the same day Swartz reported it stolen.
The company said it towed the vehicle from a handicapped parking space at an apartment complex a few blocks away after receiving a complaint. So Swartz and his dad went to pick up the car, but when they got there they were in for a surprise.
"He said just for storage it would cost $2,025, plus towing," Sumner Swartz said.
That was more than the car was worth, so Randall Swartz threatened to get a lawyer involved. The towing company first lowered the bill to $1,000, then dropped it to $250 and agreed to tow the car to the Swartz home for free.
However, Randall Swartz continued to press a company employee about why nobody contacted his son for five months. He says that didn't go over well.
"He started swearing at me, F-bombing me," Randall Swartz said.
So Randall Swartz called the Public Regulation Commission, which regulates tow companies, and filed a complaint against A-1 Autow Recovery.
"Once the car is towed, the owner must contact the vehicle's owner and any lien holders within five days," said Ryan German, PRC transportation director. "If (the Swartz's allegations are) true, it would certainly be a violation."
The PRC is investigating, though agency officials are waiting to see if the company returns the $250 to the Swartz family before deciding how to go forward with the case.
As of Tuesday, the company had not returned the money, Randall Swartz said.
KRQE News 13 visited the business and talked to a manager, who blamed the problem on two employees.
The first, he said, was supposed to send out the notices to owners but later took off with the paperwork. The second person who took over the job sent out notices "that may or may not be correct," he said.
KRQE News 13 spoke to the tow company owner twice and he agreed to do an interview, then ignored News 13. He said over the phone, however, that the two employees no longer work at the business and that he plans on refunding the $250 to the Swartz family.
However, the ordeal has become quite a debacle for Swartz. He paid $6,000 for another car after he thought his Honda was stolen.
"I love this (Honda) but I have to sell it to pay off the car I bought," he said.
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