RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A Richmond mother was left stranded after she woke up to find her car missing in August of 2018.
Destina Williams immediately thought her Honda had been stolen and called police. Richmond police had no record of it being towed and told her to file a stolen car report.
Life without wheels was tough for the new mom.
“It’s been hard. It’s been hard. That car had everything in it, my schoolbooks,” Williams said.
She couldn’t afford to buy new books for school and had to drop out of college.
“When they took my car, I was pregnant. Now I have a six-month-old. It’s hard for me to get back and forth to work. I have done Lyft, bus rides and things like that but when your funds get low what else can you do?” she asked.
Months went by and Williams heard nothing from police. She began to think her car was gone for good. That was until this year, when she got a baffling call from a Richmond detective.
“March of this year I get contacted and they say they found my vehicle and I am like ‘yay’ but then they tell me it was in a tow lot,” explained Williams.
It turns out her Honda had been sitting in the lot of ABT Towing the entire time, a total of eight months.
“I call the tow lot and I asked if I can come pick my vehicle up and they say sure, you owe us $9,000 some odd dollars to pick it up. And I am like what are you talking about? It’s a stolen vehicle. What are you talking about? Someone stole my car,” she told 8News.
While there is a sign on her apartment building now that says towing enforced, permit parking only, Williams says the sign wasn’t there until September of 2018.
“There was nothing here that said no parking. It only said no trespassing signs,” Williams said.
Williams told 8News during that eight months of her car missing she never got a call, email or letter from the towing company saying they had her car.
8News got Dave Teets, a towing insurance and safety specialist, to weigh in. He told 8News there should have been a record of the tow with the City of Richmond.
“Within 60 minutes in City of Richmond, within 60 minutes of towing a car off a private property lot the towing company is required to give that information to the Department of Emergency Communications,” explained Teets.
8News found ABT did just that. We went to the towing company and records show they called the tow in at 4:30 in the morning on Aug. 6, 2018. So, what happened?
“I found out that DEC did not do their part in putting it into the system,” explained Williams.
According to an email shared with 8News from the Richmond detective on the case, the Richmond Department of Emergency Communications “failed” to enter the car in the system because they got a message saying “duplicate found.”
Williams’ car was towed in Henrico the previous month, a parking mistake she admits to and paid for. She picked up the car the day it was towed. Yet, as the detective’s email states, “it was never taken out of the system.”
Teets says this never should have happened. However, he also says that “duplicate found” message should have been a red flag to Richmond DEC to double check the cars information with ABT Towing and Henrico police. He said if all checked out like make, model and vin number, DEC still had an obligation to log the tow.
“They should have still entered it into the system and they could have done that,” said Teets.
Williams couldn’t afford the $9,000 to get her 2004 Honda out of storage nor did she think she should foot the bill for the logging mishap. The detective advised Williams to file a claim with the city. She did but her claim was denied. A third-party investigator found no negligence on behalf of the City of Richmond.
When 8News inquired, at first, the city told us simply it’s her problem. They said she parked illegally.
“If I had just known they towed it. I would have paid it the exact day and got my vehicle back,” Williams told 8News.
8News kept pressing, reaching out to DEC, Richmond police, ABT Towing, DMV and the City’s Risk Management Department as well as out towing expert. We learned everything we could about towing policy and protocol.
After months going back and forth with what 8News found, the City re-opened the investigation into Williams claim. Ultimately, it came down to DEC never logging the car as towed. Richmond has now paid the storage fee and 8News was with Williams as she got her Honda back.
“Oh my gosh the emotions is crazy like I don’t know if I want to smile or if I want to cry. I am glad to get it back and I am excited. If it wasn’t for you guys, I don’t think they would have caved in. I am thankful for you guys,” said Williams.
When Williams got her car back, the back tire was blown out. She says it wasn’t like that before it was towed and she needs to get a new key for the car. She also had to pay for the cost of the initial tow. Once she can cover the costs of all of that, she will be back on the road.
If anyone would like to help, she has created a GoFundMe page to help cover those unexpected expenses.