PUEBLO — Pueblo City Council is considering a predatory towing ordinance in response to public outcry over aggressive practices reported in the community.
The ordinance introduced Monday night would require private property owners who have contracts with towing companies to post clear warning signs. It would also cap the maximum drop-fee at $5. A drop fee is an allowable charge tow truck drivers can demand in order to disconnect a car on the spot.
"The City of Pueblo has towing carriers within the City that prey upon motorists that park in unmarked or unclearly marked areas subject to towing," states a background paper for the proposed ordinance.
"This ordinance creates additional requirements with regards to towing signage in an effort to warn motorists and provide them with additional information regarding the regulations placed on towing carriers."
One towing horror story occurred back in May at the Daylight Donuts on West 6th Street downtown. The eatery is located just across the street from the Dennis Maes Pueblo Judicial Building which is known for having limited parking and tends to overflow on busy Monday and Tuesday mornings.
On the morning of May 14, owner Monica Cox said tow truck operators from RMA Towing removed two of her customers vehicles while they were dining in her restaurant.
"I was sitting there having coffee and donuts and somebody said your car's being towed, and I looked up and it was going by," recalled Gene Castellucci, one of the customers.
Cox confronted the tow truck driver as he was hooking up one of the vehicles.
"He said I am tired of you allowing people to park in this lot and walk over to the courthouse," Cox said.
She told him that the cars belonged to customers and his reply was that the vehicles owner would need to speak with him about stopping the tow.
"By the time I get in here and ask, hey do you own that gold car, off it goes," Cox said.
The cars were parked just east of the paved lot in front of her restaurant. Cox maintains that they were positioned in a way the straddled the property line with the vacant lot next door. That lot is owned by a relative of RMA Towing.
The police were called and the tow truck driver returned. The conversation that followed still has Cox in disbelief.
"He told us at that time that if we would sign a contract with them, that he would return the vehicles," she said.
Monica wasn't the only one to hear the proposition.
"Unless they sign an agreement with us, then we'll leave them alone," said Ben, who preferred to only give us his first-name.
Ben's mother-in-law owns the gold car Cox saw being towed. She called him that day and he came to the restaurant to help her out when he heard the conversation between Cox and the tow truck driver.
"He said it to the officer too, I'm surprised the officer didn't catch it because, to me, that's extortion," Ben said.
RMA Towing owner Derek Proud denied that such an exchange took place.
"No, that's nothing I could even do," Proud said. "I can't just enforce some and not others, I mean it's consistency."
According to county property records, the triangular shaped 0.14 acre lot was purchased in February of 2018 by Two Proud Holdings, LLC. Business filings listed with the Colorado Secretary of State state that Donald Thomas Proud is the registered agent with a principal address in Coeur D Alene, ID. Two Proud Holdings, LLC also owns the building at 929 West 10th Street where RMA Towing does business.
The vacant lot has four no-parking signs posted near the boundary lines. Residents of a homeless encampment just south of the property line said they have been camping on the state-owned adjacent lot for about a month without being disturbed.
Monica and her husband Scott purchased the donut shop in the summer of 2017. She said that RMA Towing approached them shortly after they opened to see if they wished to continue the parking enforcement contract. The Cox's declined.
Proud said he had a contract with the previous business owner.
"When the new owners took it over, we have not pursued contracts with them," he said.
Monica Cox did not file a police report over the inappropriate offer. She paid RMA Towing to have her customers cars released and said she is considering filing suit in small claims court to recover the costs.
In the meantime, she is urging customers to avoid the vacant lot next door.
Towing companies are licensed and regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. None of the individuals interviewed for this story have filed a complaint with the PUC against RMA Towing.
Proud said he plans to speak about the city's proposed ordinance at the next scheduled council meeting in September. In the meantime, he encourages drivers to obey the posted signs.
"If there's signs on a lot, just don't park there, it's that easy," Proud said.