1 call after I-94 pileups led to towing price spike

Cars damaged in the pileups on I-94 at McDonald's Towing. (Jan. 11, 2015)


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The fees for towing nearly 200 cars away from the recent deadly pileups on I-94 relied on one phone call, Target 8 has uncovered.

McDonald’s Towing and Rescue has a contract with Kalamazoo County that states “any call from Sheriff’s Dispatch will be charged the contract pricing, regardless of which police/fire agency is on scene.” That contract states that a tow from any place in the county due to an accident would cost $35.

Bernadette Johnson said McDonald's Towing overcharged her for towing her car away from the pileups on I-94. (Jan. 12, 2015)
(Johnson’s car.)

But instead of $35, Bernadette Johnson told Target 8 on Monday, she was charged $250 to tow her 2003 Buick Rendezvous 11 miles from the site of the massive wrecks to the company’s yard. The car was driveable and wasn’t damaged in the crash. She said she thought McDonald’s was taking advantage of her.

But McDonald’s seems to be within its rights to charge more, Target 8 found, because of the specific wording of its contract.

In the case of the Jan. 9 pileups on I-94 west of Battle Creek that killed one and sent 22 more to the hospital, the Michigan State Police was in charge from the beginning. An MSP prisoner transport vehicle witnessed the first crash at the beginning of the chain reaction. Troopers called for marked MSP cruisers to come to the scene, bypassing county dispatch.

A MSP sergeant called McDonald’s Towing to the scene to start clearing away vehicles. That phone call seems to have made the difference because it didn’t come from county dispatch.

McDonald’s owner did not want to go on camera, but admitted to Target 8 Wednesday that if the sheriff’s dispatch had called, the company would have had to abide by county contract fees.

Since McDonald’s doesn’t have a contract with the MSP, they charged what they thought was fair, the owner told Target 8.

The owner stated that McDonald’s hasn’t been able to take daily jobs since the massive wreck, saying they have been overwhelmed because many of the 193 vehicles in the wreck were taken to their lot.

The towing industry is not regulated by the state. A section of the bureau of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs said that they make sure companies are insured and drivers are “qualified.” Contracts are not required, and each are up to various jurisdictions.

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If you have a price-gouging complaint, you can file it with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division or with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office.

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