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Milwaukee's Abyss Towing loses license to operate in city after complaint about denied 'drop fee' (WI)


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Milwaukee's Abyss Towing LLC has lost its license to operate in the city.

The company, which was accused of failing to offer a vehicle "drop fee" before towing a man's car, had its license revoked Tuesday by the Common Council.  

The move came after a complaint from Matthew Clark, who said an Abyss tow truck driver failed to inform him of a city-mandated option to pay a $50 fee to avoid the tow.

The tow company argued Clark jumped in his vehicle and started it when it was already hooked up and that he was offered but refused to pay the "drop fee."

Dan Sanders, an attorney for Abyss, said Tuesday that the punishment was "unduly harsh," especially because the city hasn't gotten other complaints about the company.

"There's nothing that Abyss Towing has done that has affected the health, safety and well-being of the citizens of this city," Sanders said. 

He urged aldermen to give Abyss a warning letter or suspension instead of "putting them out of business for good, forever."

Aldermen weren't persuaded and voted unanimously to revoke the company's license.

Clark has said he pleaded with the tow truck driver and tried to explain that he had parked in a space assigned to another tenant outside his mother's apartment building, but was in and out in 10 minutes. 

He also said his mom had just been victimized in a scam, so he had to get her account information and report the fraud to her bank. He added that there were plenty of empty spots available.

His pleas got him nowhere, and the tow truck operator drove off with Clark's 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, plunging it into the depths of Abyss Towing LLC and the grips of a $355 retrieval fee, he said.

Clark accused the tow truck operator of failing to inform him of the "drop fee" option and the company of illegally applying more than $200 in additional charges. In Wisconsin, a maximum of $150 in additional fees may be applied only under special circumstances, such as vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds or tow trips that exceed 20 miles. 

The company said Clark refused to show its driver his identification and vehicle registration as required for a drop fee release. It also argued that he refused to pay the drop fee.


Abyss, which boasts of "fast friendly service," deals only with private property impounds, according to its website.

State law allows for a maximum towing fee of $150, and $25 for each period of 24 consecutive hours that a vehicle is stored at an outdoor facility.

A $35 fee is allowed if the vehicle is stored at an indoor facility, and fees for trips exceeding 20 miles can only be assessed at $3 per mile.

Milwaukee also has a special ordinance allowing vehicle owners to pay the $50 drop fee directly to the tow truck operator to avoid the tow if the vehicle has not been fully hooked up to the truck. 

Clark recorded a phone conversation with the company owner, Anthony Lopez, in which he was brusquely brushed off while pleading his case.

"To be honest there's really nothing we can do at this point," Lopez says.

"You shouldn't have been parked there illegally in the first place."

Lopez admonished Clark for entering the vehicle and starting the engine — which Clark claims he did before the driver appeared from the tow truck, adding that in hindsight he shouldn't have done that.

The man was not moved.

"You already admitted to me that you would have done everything totally different," Lopez said before telling Clark to "have a nice day" and hanging up.

On Tuesday, Sanders said Lopez has made it clear the company could make improvements to how it handles tows.

Clark filed complaints against Abyss with the state and the Better Business Bureau, which has given the business an F rating, the lowest on the BBB scale.

In September, Clark submitted the meticulously compiled complaint file with the city Licenses Committee, complete with timelines, appendixes and citations of the city ordinance and state law governing towing.

The complaint file also includes city data on Abyss Towing that shows no reported vehicle drop fees among 3,587 private tows from 2016 through September of this year.

The Licenses Committee agreed with Clark and recommended Milwaukee drop Abyss.

Before Tuesday's vote, Ald. Mark Borkowski questioned the "severity" of the punishment.

But Ald. Nik Kovac, chairman of the Licenses Committee, defended the move, saying Clark submitted extensive documentation and evidence.


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