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Suspect used tow truck to steal vehicles, Houston police say (TX)


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HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) --

Houston police believe a man may have been disguising himself as a legitimate tow truck driver to steal vehicles.

On Monday, officers received a report that a tow truck stole a vehicle. On Tuesday, an officer spotted a suspicious wrecker heading south on the Southwest Freeway.

"While in route to the station to go off duty, (an officer) ended up seeing the wrecker driver on the freeway and noticed the wrecker driver didn't have a license plate on his vehicle," said Sgt. Kelvin Johnson of Houston police.

When the officers tried to pull the driver over, he took off. A 10-minute chase wound up in Sugar Land. That's when police realized the case might be bigger than one vehicle.

"What we believe is that this wrecker driver, this suspect, is involved with possibly an auto theft ring," Johnson said.

Licensed tow truck driver Billy Lemus was on scene to take the wrecker away. He explained to Eyewitness News what people should look for on tow trucks.

According to Lemus, there should be a Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) number on the front side. The name of the business and storage location should also be on the vehicle.

You should also check the back, where multiple plates should be: One for a license and the other showing where the truck is allowed to work.

Officers say this truck was missing nearly all of those, which is why the licensed tow truck driver couldn't wait to take the vehicle away.

"A lot of people hate wrecker drivers because of guys like him. They do a lot of illegal stuff that they're not supposed to be doing, and we're following the law and all of the requirements, and this guy is breaking the law and doing illegal business," Lemus said.

The suspect's tow truck had a business name on the side. Eyewitness News called the company. The owner said the vehicle was sold more than a year ago, and the buyer was supposed to remove the name.

Officers said the investigation is ongoing.



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I don't know how you could tell this guy apart from the hundreds of "not for hire" "we buy junk cars" guys and the completely unmarked trucks loading them up down at the auction.  Texas is full of unlicensed tow trucks and TDLR does nothing about it; they don't even bother pretending that they care.


An important takeaway from this story is something that shouldn't be news to anyone; if you sell a vehicle with your company name/logo, YOU remove it completely before the vehicle leaves your possession.  Going online immediately with Texas DMV and filing a "vehicle transfer" notification with all of the buyer's identifying information is imperative as well - not just for possible criminal liability, but also civil liability and toll road bills.  This can protect you in many ways in the event the buyer does not transfer the title.  https://webdealer.txdmv.gov/title/publicVehicleTransfer.do



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  • 2 weeks later...

I'll add a little update to that advice above; go ahead and remove your license plates, too.  They're your property.  Inform the buyer they can arrive with a temporary drive-out tag from the county.  Currently going through an issue where a vehicle I sold, and went through the online "sold" notification, is going through toll booths and hitting my account because the license plate is being read by the cameras.  My toll tag is not on the vehicle.  Toll road authority is happily reimbursing me on the fees since I did file the online notification, but they can't stop it charging me until the title has been actually transferred.  So in the end it won't cost me any tolls but just the hassle of calling them to dispute the charges.


As far as these unlicensed "we buy junk cars" guys, well...I tow junk wreckers. ; )





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