Motorists say they're being price-gouged over towed vehicles after flood; Nessel sends warning

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is warning against price-gouging by towing companies after motorists complained about high fees being charged for removing vehicles that were stuck on or along flooded freeways. 

Police say hundreds of vehicles were abandoned along Metro Detroit freeways following massive flooding over the weekend that prompted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to issue an emergency declaration for Wayne County and submit a request for a presidential declaration of disaster.

"I am concerned that bad actors may use the weekend's flooding to overcharge or scam people who need assistance," Nessel said in a Tuesday release. "We stand ready to hold accountable anyone who attempts to take advantage of this devastating situation." 

Kelsey Cinciarelli, 30, of Detroit said she had to pay more than $600 to get her Ford out of a towing shop impound after she had to leave it on near I-94 during recent flooding.

Motorist Kelsey Cinciarelli said she believes Detroit-based Goch & Son's Towing gouged her by charging $639 to tow her 2012 Ford Fusion from northbound Interstate 75 near the Ambassador Bridge to the company's yard a few miles away.

"They're taking advantage of people," said Cinciarelli, 30. "My car wasn't blocking traffic, and it wasn't under any water. There's no reason that should've cost that much."

Goch & Sons couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment. 

Cinciarelli of Detroit said she was driving home from her second job as a bartender at Arnaldo’s Banquet Center in Riverview at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday when she was forced to stop on northbound I-75 in southwest Detroit.

"I asked a guy on a motorcycle who was pulled over what was happening, and he said there was four feet of water up the freeway," she said. "So I pulled over and called my mom to pick me up. I didn't know what else to do."

When Cinciarelli returned later that morning to pick up her car, she found the freeway was barricaded.

"There were roadblocks everywhere, and I couldn't get on the freeway," she said. "Before they took the roadblocks down, they towed all the cars."

Cinciarelli said she called Michigan State Police, who directed her to Goch & Sons.

"They told me they were closed for the day, so I had to pick up the car (Monday)," she said. "They said it was $400, plus an extra $30 a day. The final bill, with all the fees, was $639, which is ridiculous."

Companies that tow for Michigan State Police, which handle most freeway patrols, set their own prices, Lt. Michael Shaw said.

"We suggest prices, but that’s posted at the tow company," Shaw said. "I tell people they should ask for an itemized list to see what the tower is charging you. If there's a disagreement about the price, there are ways to get recourse."

Anyone who has a dispute about a towing charge must file a petition in the district court that has jurisdiction over the area where the vehicle was towed. The petition must be filed within 20 days of the vehicle being towed.

Cinciarelli said she got an itemized list of charges, "but that was after I paid them. I had to get my car back; I had to pay them."

Nessel's spokeswoman Lynsey Mukomel said in an email: "Towing companies are required to provide a list of suggested prices and an itemized invoice, though it's important to point out the charges associated with the flooding recoveries will not be the usual rate because of the difficulty of towing cars out of water and having to go under water to hook up in some circumstances."

Motorists who want to complain about towing prices can contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. Cinciarelli said she plans to file a complaint.

"This is all new to me, but I do want to put in a complaint," she said. "If I had to do it over again, I'd do the same thing, because I was able to keep myself and my car safe." 

The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division can be reached at (517) 335-7599.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN