FORT WORTH - Fort Worth police and state regulators confirmed to News 8 they are investigating a frenzy of illegal towing in the popular West 7th entertainment district.
In recent surveillance operations, they've spotted tow truck drivers who ignore safety requirements for chains, reflective vests, and flashing lights, just so they can hook-up faster and haul more cars. Investigators also say alleged violators tow from businesses which don't post the proper signs.
Tow-away lots are required to have warnings at every entrance. Attorneys say those signs must clearly display that towing is enforced, and who can and cannot park in the lot. Names on spaces may not be enough to stand up in court.
Attorney Warren Norred is suing what he calls "predatory" towing companies.
"So what they'll do is, get a crew and they'll move people very fast," Norred said. "They can empty a lot faster than you think they can."
He said many companies use spotters to see who leaves the lot, then immediately call in the wreckers. That's legal, as long as the signs are posted at every lot entrance.
"It's easy to ascribe the word 'evil' to these guys, but they're really just hungry," Norred said. "They find an excuse to make money and they do it."
Norred said he currently has a dozen cases set for a tow hearing with a justice of the peace.
In the last two years the area has become so popular for weekend nightlife, parking has become hard to find. Drivers often pull into large lots, only to walk away to shop or dine at a neighboring business. That's not allowed by most lot owners.
Montgomery Plaza recently changed tow companies to enforce parking. A previous contractor was reportedly spotted breaking into cars to put vehicles in neutral, and using other illegal means to tow the vehicles faster.
Drivers also complained that the signs weren't visible.
"I probably put up more signs than I need to, but it doesn't do any good," said Billy Heiser with Lone Star Towing, the new contractor at Montgomery Plaza.
Heiser said he posted 60 signs when he was hired. He also drives the lot and personally warns drivers who walk away from their cars and toward other businesses.
"People are just going to have to understand, they're going to have to respect somebody's property and not park there," Heiser said.
Lone Star is shown on YouTube towing a car from Montgomery Plaza. Fort Worth police said that was legal tow. Heiser said he requires his drivers to follow all safety laws and protocol so the tows hold up in court.
Drivers can sue if they think their car was illegally towed. They should also call police to report the case.
But, attorneys and tow companies agree - it's safer to find a legal spot than take a parking battle to court.
The investigation into illegal towing is on-going, so police would not identify potential violators.