(CBS) — In Chicago, tales of aggressive tow truck drivers and billing abuses are well known. 2 Investigator Pam Zekman has been reporting on them for years.
Recently, she heard a story so incredible she had to check it out.
“How can someone take your car without your permission and it turns out they can if you’re in the hospital and no one’s around, they’ll just tow your car?” Rachel Holtz says.
Holtz got into an accident near the 1900 block of South Canalport. Her car was totaled and she suffered arm and leg injuries.
“My entire body ached, but I was just in shock, too,” she says.
Tow truck drivers arrived on the scene. Holtz says one — Ezequiel Rodriguez — pursued her to the ambulance.
“He wants me to give permission to tow my car,” she recalls. “Finally, the EMT had to say to him, ‘Bro, not right now.’”
When Holtz arrived at the University of Illinois emergency room, there was a surprise waiting for her.
“There’s Ezequiel, the guy from the ambulance and he’s checked in as a visitor and he had my bed number on his badge and he’s sitting there with a clipboard waiting for me,” Holtz says.
Holtz never gave Rodriguez permission to tow her car, and he eventually left.
We asked Rodriguez’s boss at Northwest Towing about the tactics. Franklyn Arango agrees his employee crossed the line in being so aggressive. He promised to speak with Rodriguez about it.
Rodriguez did not respond to CBS 2’s phone calls.
Later, a second tow truck driver, Mariusz Florek of Prestige Automotive, arrived at the emergency room. He allegedly demanded to see Holtz and tried to get her approval to tow the car.
“He kind of muscled his way in there,” says Kristen Mantes, Holtz’s friend. She was visiting her in the emergency room and witnessed the confrontation with Florek.
“She’s still in a lot of pain, she’s still crying,” recalls Mantes. “And then when he got told he wasn’t going to get his own way he just continued to get even more angry.”
Florek did tow Holtz’s car — she says without consent. Then, she says, he sent her to a lot where she could not find her car. Using the hide-and-seek game, he piled up $700 in storage fees on the $1,324 bill that was paid by Holtz’s insurance.
“He stole from me, like he stole my car,”
Soliciting a tow is illegal, says Steve Weatherford, assistant chief of police for the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates towing companies.
Florek denied similar charges when Zekman confronted him in 2006. At that time, he denied stealing cars in order to rack up storage fees.
But Holtz believes that’s what he did to her: “I was furious. And I was just so angry that he would take advantage of this.”
Reached by phone for this story, Florek at first denied he was in the emergency room with Holtz. Florek then said Holtz called to have him tow the car and bring her belongings that were in the car to the hospital. He says he is no longer in the towing business.
A spokesperson for University Of Illinois hospital says they take patient complaints very seriously. They say they will investigate this case but declined further comment.