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Refunds Ordered For Moms Towed From Improperly Marked Lot

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The "no parking" signs warning that unauthorized vehicles will be towed at this Lincoln Park lot are not clearly visibile from the entrance, as they are only posted on utility poles at the far rear of the lot. Several mothers had their cars towed when they parked here during a playdate on Jan. 24, 2012. (Credit: CBS)

The “no parking” signs warning that unauthorized vehicles will be towed at this Lincoln Park lot are not clearly visibile from the entrance, as they are only posted on utility poles at the far rear of the lot. Several mothers had their cars towed when they parked here during a playdate on Jan. 24, 2012. (Credit: CBS)

Derrick Blakley Derrick Blakley
Derrick Blakley is a general assignment reporter for CBS 2...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – It’s been said it’s easier to take a steak from a bear than it is to get a refund from a Chicago towing company, but that’s exactly what a group of North Side moms achieved.

As CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports, a CBS 2 story last week played a big role in getting the moms what they wanted.

Meghann Sarnicki said she never really expected to get a refund after she and several other mothers complained about their cars getting towed from a Lincoln Park lot, even though warning signs were not clearly visible at the entrance to the parking lot.

Sarnicki and Jade Benning said they wouldn’t accept what they saw as an act of blatant abuse by Phillips Towing.

On Jan. 24, they were enjoying a playdate with their children at Little Beans Café, which combines coffee for parents with playtime for toddlers.

In the middle of their playdate, the mothers were told their cars were being towed out of the neighboring parking lot, which they’d been using for months.

Sarnicki’s and Benning’s cars, and eight other cars were towed from a giant lot next door to the café. Little Beans customers had been parking there since last June, when the neighboring building was torn down, but had never had a problem before.

Benning said “because it affected so many people and the way that it was done, I really hoped they would right a wrong.”

Although there were warning signs posted at the lot, they were placed only at the very back end of the lot where drivers who entered the lot from Webster Avenue could not see them, much less read them.

It cost each of the mothers $200 to get their cars back.

“It smells a lot like a set-up, from all the circumstances that I’ve heard,” Sarnicki said.

After the moms had their cars towed, the café immediately put up their own signs warning customers not to park in the neighboring parking lot or they’d be towed.

Two days later, a day after CBS 2 aired a story about the mothers’ plight, an Illinois Commerce Commission investigator paid a visit to the lot and apparently determined the signs were improper.

The agency ordered Phillips towing to give refunds to everyone who got towed.

“I called the towing company and told them my name and they said, ‘Yes … we refunded your card.’ It was two days later, so it was fast,” Benning said.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Commerce Commission said Phillips Towing was issued a citation and could be fined for the incident. They’ve also been told they can’t tow any more cars from that lot until proper signs are installed near the entrance.

The towing company’s general manager, Mary Ann Phillips, said 10 cars were towed from the lot and she agreed it was improper to tow the vehicles because the signs were not adequate.

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