When Temple University student Brandon Villano’s 2004 Dodge Neon was stolen from the front of his Wilkes-Barre City residence on August 18, Villano’s girlfriend posted a photo of the car in the Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch Coalition Facebook group, asking crime watch members to “please keep a look out for it.” A crime watch member out walking his dog two days later spotted the vehicle, called 911, and notified the poster.
According to Dee Suchoski (the mother of the poster), she and her daughter went to the Neon and identified the car to a city police officer. Suchoski claims the officer told her the car could not be driven away because a stolen license plate had been placed on the car, and that it would need to be towed.
Suchoski stated that after she expressed concern regarding previous news articles relating to expensive towing fees, the officer told her that because she was a victim of a crime there would be no charge, quoting a section of the city’s LAG towing contract which instructs the tower to “tow, free of charge, any vehicles owned by any victim of any crime.” No similar provision is to be found in the temporary towing contract with Falzone Towing, the contractor selected by the mayor as the city’s interim tower, while the city continues with contract termination procedures against LAG.
According to Suchoski she then went to Falzone Towing where she was informed that she would be subject to a $200 towing fee, plus storage fees of $45 per day. The Gazette attempted to contact Paul Falzone, owner of Falzone Towing, but Rich, the lot manager, told the Gazette that Paul Falzone was out of town at the time. Paul Falzone later informed the newspaper that he was reached on his cell phone by Rich at the time of the incident, and had instructed Rich to “handle the situation as he saw fit.”
Upon verifying the officer’s misunderstanding of the city’s current towing arrangement, the car was returned to Suchoski without charge. Falzone said, “The officer likely hadn’t received the memo yet.”
According to two city police officers who asked not to be identified, a memo was dispatched shortly after the above incident—via email—to all city officers advising them of the policy change. However, the Leighton administration has denied the existence of such a memo. In an email response to the Gazette city spokesperson Liza Prokop wrote, “I confirmed with City Administration that no such memorandum exists.”
Charlotte Raup, president of the Wilkes-Barre Crime Watch Coalition, questions why the Falzone contract doesn’t have the same provision as the LAG contract. Raup asks, “Why was it omitted from the Falzone contract, especially if the LAG contract isn’t yet terminated?” Raup also says she believes “victims of crime should never be charged for towing or storage fees stemming from the recovery of a stolen car.”
Falzone noted that all his prices are posted on the city’s website, and stated there is no difference in pricing for victims of crime versus that of any other individual. “If you’re assaulted in the park, and you’re taken to the ER, will they not charge you for services rendered?” Falzone asked.
Falzone also stated his goal is to change the demeanor of the towing industry in the city, stressing, “Per our contract, we didn’t have to waive the fee, but it was simply the right thing to do. We went above and beyond the contract.” Falzone also stated that his policies, fees, and practices are in line with those of other cities, and invited the Gazette to confirm this for itself.
York, Pennsylvania, police told the Gazette that when a stolen vehicle is recovered, they make every effort to contact the owner first, but if a car absolutely must be towed, then they can only assume a fee for towing would be charged to the victim.
Easton, Pennsylvania, has also enacted similar policies with regard to the recovery of stolen vehicles.