Ontario fleet fighting $19K tow bill after minor incident

CHICAGO, Ill. – An Ontario fleet says its tractor-trailer is being held hostage in Chicago, as part of an apparent scheme that would make Al Capone proud. And the company has been hit by it twice.

RoadStar Trucking is attempting to recover a tractor and trailer that a Chicago-area towing company impounded Aug. 12. The company, VIP Towing and Roadside Assistance, wants US$18,958 to release the equipment, which it says it towed and stored under authorization from the driver following a minor damage incident.

Police arriving on the scene escorted the driver to the receiver 500 yards up the road to unload. (Photo: RoadStar)

The RoadStar driver struck some tree debris following a major storm, in an industrial area near his delivery location. Police arriving on scene allowed the driver to proceed to the receiver – just 500 yards up the road – and unload. RoadStar told its driver to wait there for further instructions, and a local Volvo dealer was called to meet him at at the receiver and help guide him to the dealership for repairs.

In the meantime, four men from VIP Towing showed up and told the driver they had secured permission from RoadStar general manager Joe Smelko to have the truck towed, Smelko told Today’s Trucking in an interview. The driver signed a “pre-tow disclosure,” granting permission for them to tow the equipment. The driver was then dropped off at a hotel.

Smelko, however, insists he never granted permission for them to tow the truck and doesn’t even have authorization to do so. In fact, witnesses have told him VIP arrived with a light-duty tow truck and actually drove the damaged unit from the receiver to its own yard. It has since been moved to a second location, according to GPS records.

VIP Towing and Recovery arrived at the receiver in a light-duty tow truck and convinced the driver to approve the tow, RoadStar claims. (Supplied photo)

Despite the alleged misrepresentation, Smelko contacted the towing company to see what it would cost to recover his equipment. Smelko said he nearly hit the floor when he was told the bill was nearly $20,000.

The invoice was broken down as: $2,495 for towing; $2,495 for winching; $1,995 for debris cleanup; $2,995 heavy wrecker fee; $3,570 for labor (two workers at $595 per hour each); $2,985 for “truck time”; $350 per day for storage; and to top it all off – a $1,723 “administrative” fee.

This is the second time this has happened to RoadStar in Chicago. The first time, the lightly damaged truck and trailer were under load and the company begrudgingly paid to get the equipment and freight back. That time it was a different tow company altogether, Citywide Recovery.

“This can’t be a RoadStar problem,” Smelko said, wondering if a widespread extortion ring could be at play.

This time, the company decided to fight back. Police were not overly helpful, passing RoadStar back and forth between four different detachments. Eventually, police visited the driver at his hotel and took a statement. RoadStar filed a statement of claim with the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, and is demanding the return of its equipment and $50,000 in damages.

VIP Towing, for its part, has not yet responded to the statement of claim. But a local CBS news affiliate investigating unscrupulous practices in the local towing industry visited VIP, and asked a representative about the RoadStar invoice.

“Towing is expensive. It’s not cheap,” the unidentified employee said on camera. “Why do people think that towing is cheap? It’s not. Not when you do professional towing. Why shouldn’t it be $18,000? Can you tell me why it shouldn’t be $18,000?”

Smelko is interested in knowing how many other carriers have been victimized.

“Think of all the carriers in this area that go to that location every day,” he said.

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • We have similar stories in Montreal, when our truck and trailer is towed to someone we know are bad to deal with we hire another tow company to retrieve our equipment immediately. Sometimes the bill for a simple tow is over $10,000 but getting the equipment out of the rouge tow yard is critical. If you give the rogue towing people too much time to think about extra charges you end up paying $20,000. Ontario isn’t much better, but Quebec is difficult to deal with because no one in the tow business speaks English……….or admits they do.

  • Just look at the alleged exprnses levied, especially when tge vehicle was actually driven to the impound yard. There was no actual towing fee light duty or heavy duty and $595/hr for two employees is way above nornal fees which amounts to pretty much extortion, the list goes on.
    Thus is extortion in the highest degree.
    The towing company should be held liable for lying to the driver inferring they had contacted road star.
    There are lots of crooks and thieves especially in the towing industry who prey on vulnerabilities.

    • And the driver should’ve checked with the company before allowing it to be moved! I had a similar situation regarding a tow company from Brampton, but I believe it wasn’t even settled because of the notes I had made the night I received the call from the O/O about the accident and infamous Red Car that cut him off!!

  • Thats why l dont go there low bridges and there is scams all over the usa in Allentown the police chief runs the ems fire and have weight lmts on bridges and they can hold tanks and they charge the driver thousands of bucks to line their pockets
    I go to this tow company qnd drive that truck and trailer from there and to mant scammers got to be put in their place in prison

  • This happened to us in the States as well. Huge bills – no regulations. Cops call the tow truck and no choice left for the carrier but to pay massive bills.

  • Hello my name is Bill Doyle tow truck companies in the GTA are ringing truck drivers every day. Steve’s towing wanted $3500.00 to tow one of my trucks off the 401. My driver is a seasoned veteran he managed to get the truck clear of live lanes. And called my regular tow company. The Steve’s towing driver was very aggressive on trying to get the tow. My driver would not leave his truck, this was the only way to prevent Steve’s towing from towing the truck. After only 10 minutes my regular tow truck company arrived and the bill was only $500 big difference. Shady Tow truck companies use every dirty trick in the book to rip you off this is not right and should be regulated by the government.

  • Towing is a big scam going on in USA. The carriers are forced to pay exorbitant charges for routine work. The issue is worse in Missouri state where we HAD to pay USD 35000+ for recovery and towing charges for a rolled over truck and trailer. Since they had the truck, trailer and cargo as hostage and police is not very cooperative (I wonder why????) carriers are forced top pay.
    Has any body come across the storage charges USD100 per day for the truck, USD 100 per day for the trailer and USD100 per day for the Cargo, although the cargo is in the trailer.

    It is a BIG scam going on in US and especially against the Canadian carriers.

    Nasir Awan
    Director Safety and Compliance