9 Investigates: North Carolinians face tough battles against towing companies

CHARLOTTE — You’ve probably seen tow trucks circling the block looking for their next car to hook, but what if you feel like the towing company is in the wrong?

Channel 9′s Madison Carter found that North Carolina is one of the worst states in the country when it comes to protecting drivers from predatory tow truck drivers.

Many towing companies have contracts with apartment complexes or businesses to make sure you’re not parking where you shouldn’t. Carter found that Charlotte does have a towing and booting ordinance meant to protect drivers, but police told us they don’t enforce those protections unless there’s criminal behavior. Our investigation found that even if you feel like that’s the case, you still might be on your own.

Fulton Williams was in Charlotte when he said he got a late-night text message from his daughter who attends North Carolina A&T in Greensboro. Inside the message was a picture of her getting her first boot.

“So as a parent, I tell you, well, accept responsibility, pay the fine,” Williams said.

But after he said she paid $180, her car still wasn’t free.

“So she called me back a little while later and she said they can’t get the second boot off. I think, ‘The second boot?’” Williams said.

He said the company who put the boots on the car, LMS Towing, only had the key to one of the boots. Days went by without a fix, and Williams said he needed to get involved. He said the company had threatened an additional $350 for tampering with the device, but after five days, the car was still stuck.

“At that point we said, well, we’re coming up to Greensboro,” Williams said.

But as he walked up to the car, he said an unmarked vehicle pulled up and someone inside started shouting at him.

“He comes out [and says], ‘You can get that boot off after you pay my [expletive] $350,’” Williams said.

The next thing that he knew, Williams said there were boots on every tire on the car. But he said things got to a tense moment with the man in the unmarked car.

“He stands back, he pulls up his shirt, her showed me his gun, and he tells me, ‘You don’t want none of this,’” Williams told Carter.

Williams said he had enough and ended up paying another $350 to remove the boots. He said the company still didn’t have the key to one of them, so an employee had to cut the boot off with a saw.

But he still felt like the towing company was in the wrong, saying, “I don’t think it’s right that someone can pull a firearm on you and tell you that you’re going to pay me or else.”

So Williams went to the Greensboro Police Department, but they ultimately told him there’s nothing they could do because it happened on private property and they can’t engage in the process.

Then Williams tried to get a warrant on his own.

“Magistrate tells me we can’t send the sheriff to pick this individual up because we need an address,” Williams said, adding that the employee never even gave him his name.

Now, Williams is waiting to hear back after filing a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office.

Carter found that Williams isn’t the first to complain about LMS Towing. We uncovered at least 15 complaints about the company since 2019.

LMS Towing declined our request for an on-camera interview, and the company’s CEO claimed that Williams assaulted his employee. The CEO claimed he had video of the incident, but he declined to show it to Channel 9. He also declined to go on record with the rest of his counter-claims, before threatening to take legal action of his own.

An officer with GPD confirmed to Carter that no one took Williams’ report, so he couldn’t speak to the specifics. He did say that the law gives a lot of leeway to towing companies.

“In the way that the contract, the law is, as long as they make an agreement with the apartment complex to tow from that lot, anything legally towed -- they can tow for anything in that light, legally,” said GPD Officer Tim Tepedino.

In order for the police to get involved in disputes like Williams’, the law in North Carolina would have to change. However, 9 Investigates found that the only legislation introduced in the last five years would have actually made it tougher for drivers to get recourse -- that proposal didn’t pass.

Only two states have fewer protections than North Carolina when it comes to towing, according to a report from the North Carolina Public Interest Research Group. You can see their full report at the following links: Part 1; Part 2.

(WATCH: Drivers say tow company chained their car to the car next to it)

Madison Carter

Madison Carter, wsoctv.com

Madison is an investigative reporter and anchor for Channel 9.

Comments on this article