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KDKA Investigates: Rogue Towing Operators Ripping Off Victims

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Dominic Zieilinski wasn't paying close attention when he pulled out on Route 51 and got T-boned by a truck.

However, the first person on the scene wasn't the police or the EMS - it was three different tow truck drivers.

KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan: "And they're just trying to get your business?"

Zieilinski: "Everyone's trying to tow my car."

They're called chasers -- tow truck operators who listen to scanners and race to the scene of accident to tow cars. This often happens without permission.

"She already hooked up the car before I even said anything. I didn't say to go ahead and do it," Zieilinski said.

Adding insult to injury, they slap accident victims like Zieilinski with outrageous bills.

"$320 for the tow, $100 administrative fee, $120 storage," Zieilinski said.

In his case, it totaled $1,005.

Efforts to reign in the chasers have fallen short. Operators protested a city ordinance to register tow trucks and limit fees, and it's has never been enforced. That's leaving victims to fend for themselves.

However, even tracking the operator down can be a wild goose chase.

In Zieilinski's case, the car was towed by a woman named Holly, who took it and disappeared. Three days later, it showed up at a garage with the bill from Big Dawg's Towing.

Sheehan went to the address on the bill.

The owner said Big Dawg's had moved out, so Sheehan went to Termon Towing, where Holly had told Zeilinski she worked.

However, the owner said she didn't and knew nothing of the car.

That led Sheehan to a place in Avalon, where he found a truck with a phone number.

Sheehan called on my cell phone and the gentleman said he was in fact Big Dawg's Towing.

"That's a lot of money for a tow isn't it?" Sheehan asked.

The man declined to meet with Sheehan to discuss it and hung up.

State Rep. Dom Costa says it's time tow truck operators become accountable.

"They're a danger to themselves and other people and they're ripping people off and that's got to stop," Costa said.

Costa will be introducing a bill this session for statewide regulation of tow truck operators. It will require them to be licensed and will outline procedures at an accident scene.

"There's no reason any tow truck should leave the scene of an accident without leaving information about where your car is going to be, how to get it out, having the ability to get it that evening if you want it," Costa said.

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