Houma couple falls through cracks in police procedures
When Hailey Garner got a call from a police officer that her stolen car had been recovered after a chase in Houma, she expected that arrangements would be made to pick it up at a convenient location with a minimum of fuss and expense.
She and her boyfriend, Steve Guidry, were, after all, victims of a crime.
But that wasn’t how things went.
Garner, a working mom with two jobs and a toddler, jumped through hoops both emotional and financial before her 16-year-old Mercedes automobile was returned by a Dulac towing yard two days and $380 later. She said she was not given the option of having the car towed to her home, or perhaps to the Houma Police headquarters, or perhaps having someone pick it up at the scene of the pursuit’s termination.
Houma police officials say that for now, his initial inquiry in response to questions from The Times indicate that officers followed proper procedures. Those procedures, as described by Houma Police Chief Dana Coleman, appear similar to those followed by most local law enforcement agencies.
“As far as the vehicle being towed, Dulac is probably where the tow company is located and we do not tow vehicles to a registered owner’s home,” Coleman said. “They either go to the towing company or if needed for evidence they are towed to our office, secured, processed and then either released to the owner or back to the towing company.”
Unless directed to do otherwise by a vehicle owner, the police are required to have cars – whether from wrecks or crime scenes – towed by the next company up on a rotation list, with no regard required as to distance and associated fees.
That means crime victims are left holding the bag. In Garner’s case that meant using money budgeted for her electric bill for the tow and related fees. While some car owners have insurance policies that might pay for a tow in similar instances, many – like Garner – do not.
“They did not tell me before they did it,” Garner said. “The cops called me and said they were doing a search of the car. Then the cop called me and said they were finished with the search and that the car was taken to Ted’s Towing. When I went there they told me they wouldn’t let me take it because I didn’t have the registration. The registration was taken out of the car. So I had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles.”
The car was stolen and recovered on Aug. 20 and it was not released to Garner until Aug. 22, which caused storage fees to rack up as well.
The ordeal began on what had been a quiet Saturday. Steve Guidry was at his Elm Street home when two men, later identified as father and son Henry Allridge Sr. and Jr., allegedly stole about a pack of cigarettes from a table. Alarmed because he had recently suffered equipment thefts from the carport, Guidry took off after the pair, who were traveling on bicycles. Guidry, in the car, caught up with the pair on Cenac Street. When he confronted them about the cigarettes, according to Houma Police Lt. Travis Theriot, Allridge Sr. drew a pistol, then with his son fled in Guidry’s car. The father-son team led police on a chase that ended at Bobby Lou Avenue. The handgun was thrown from the car during the chase and later recovered. Ten grams of crack cocaine were found in the car during a subsequent search, the one an officer had alerted Garner about.
“A victim could have their vehicle towed anywhere they want, but if it’s of evidentiary value to law enforcement it will be towed to a secure location, preferably the police department to be processed,” said Chief Coleman. “If law enforcement does not have to process the vehicle, the towing company takes it and the victim has to get it from the towing company. If a victim decides to have their vehicle towed anywhere police do not get involved.”
Guidry and Garner say the law needs to be tweaked in order for victims like themselves not to be victimized twice – once by the criminal and then by the recovery system.
An examination of the charges by The Times indicates that while steep, the charges incurred appear to be within guidelines set by the Louisiana Public Service Commission for tow operators.
Solutions in any event may not be easy to come by.
“I feel for them because this car had to be towed through no fault of their own,” said State Rep. Beryl Amedee, when asked if any changes in state law could help. “I also feel for the tow truck operator because he has to make his living. I would certainly look into it. I am not sure which part of the rules are written at which level. If the laws are already in the state statutes, I would want to see it handled in a much better fashion.” •