August 14, 2014 at 10:50 am

Costs to recover stalled vehicles after Metro Detroit flooding stagger motorists

Abandoned cars wait to be towed off of the Lodge freeway near Oakman after rain and flooding hit the Detroit area, August 12, 2014. (David Guralnick / Detroit News)

Detroit— After coping with frightening floodwaters that stalled their cars Monday during the heaviest one-day rainfall in 90 years, motorists are now being pummeled by whopping bills for getting their cars towed off streets and expressways.

Among them is Shawn Evans, 42, of the city’s west side, whose van stalled near the service drive of the John C. Lodge Freeway when he hit a large puddle. He parked his car in what he thought was a public lot close to Wayne State University and when he came back two hours later his car was gone. His towing fee: $410.

Towing operators defend the costs of doing business when faced with — in many cases — with retrieving cars from roof-deep floodwaters filled with sewage.

“They are ripping folks off, man,” said Evans, who was waiting at Goch & Sons towing location on Trumbull in Detroit. “I ran through a puddle of water and my lights came on and it stalled on me. I pulled it into a strip mall with a lot of businesses that was full of cars. I came back two hours later and my car was gone that quick.”

There were reports this week that some motorists were being charged upwards of $900 to have their cars towed out of one of the flooded freeways that were shut down.

Mike Goch, the owner of Goch & Sons towing, said that he understands drivers’ frustrations but “the degree of the difficulty to get some cars out warranted the cost” and he’s had to explain that to many irked motorists.

“If you are wading in four feet of sewage water, it’s extremely hard to get out,” Goch said.

Goch said the public doesn’t understand how expensive it is to operate a towing business. In addition to a range of rates the Michigan State Police set for certain parts of the city and region, other costs have to be passed on to the owner of an impounded car.

“You couldn’t do it for $100 bucks and stay in business,” Goch said, contending that an average tow truck costs about $97,000.

De’Angelo Henderson, the owner of Henderson Towing, said he thinks the prices have been too high.

“I’m sympathetic to them,” Henderson said of motorists who had their cars towed during the storm.

“That’s not fair. We get so many calls from people not knowing where their cars are and they are crying and upset. It’s a mess.”

Jennifer Fiore, vice president at B & T towing, which towed a few hundred cars stalled on freeways at the behest of the state police , said the higher costs has more to do with the “special equipment” used to get cars out of very challenging conditions.

Fiore said she didn’t know the highest amount charged motorists for being towed out of treacherous conditions from the freeway but said her company has given discounts to ease some of the pain.

“People are never happy when they get their cars towed,” she said. “Our drivers were out there doing their job but also being kind to people, bringing them bottled water and taking them where they needed to go. It was a huge recovery operation.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2620