A Eugene-based towing company is suing the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police, claiming it has been unfairly excluded from towing vehicles involved in North Douglas County accidents.
Crockett’s Interstate Towing & Transport Services, Inc. filed the $600,000 lawsuit in Douglas County Circuit Court last week. It alleges negligence, intentional interference with an economic relationship and a violation of due process rights under federal law. Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin and State Police Lt. Patrick Huskey are also named defendants.
The Sheriff’s Office and OSP maintain a list of tow companies that can be called to request a tow following accidents in North Douglas County. According to the complaint, Crockett’s was left off that list and the Sheriff’s Office specifically told some potential customers that Crockett’s could not tow their vehicles. Crockett’s alleged OSP told it in 2013 that it couldn’t be placed on the list because the company is from Eugene.
But Puddle Jumper Towing, Recovery & Auto Transport, another towing company from Eugene, is on the tow list. While Crockett’s is not suing Puddle Jumper, it mentioned its rival prominently in its complaint. Crockett’s alleged that Puddle Jumper overcharged customers and even charged them for services it didn’t provide. According to the complaint, Crockett’s brought its concerns about Puddle Jumper to OSP and the Sheriff’s Office, but both failed to investigate its claims.
The complaint specifically cites two alleged incidents. It asserts that on Dec. 23, 2016, Crockett’s was called by Dingler Trucking about a rollover accident on Highway 99 two miles south of Drain. Crockett’s alleged it offered to tow the truck involved in the accident for between $2,000 and $2,500. According to the complaint, the Sheriff’s Office told the Dingler truck driver that Crockett’s couldn’t perform the tow and that it would have to use Puddle Jumper instead. The complaint alleges that Puddle Jumper and Corvallis company Bob’s Towing charged $30,330 for the job. It alleges Puddle Jumper charged for trucks and flares that weren’t used, and that Bob’s charged for 18 hours of flagging that never occurred.
The second alleged incident on Aug. 25, 2017, involved an accident on Interstate 5 near Milepost 168 that blocked the southbound lanes. An Umpqua Dairy semi-trailer was then rear-ended by another vehicle at Milepost 166, and Umpqua Dairy called Crockett’s for a tow, the complaint said. The Crockett’s driver allegedly turned up to find a Puddle Jumper driver already on the job. The complaint states that Puddle Jumper billed for flaggers, an F-350 truck, a pilot car and other equipment not needed during the tow.
Bruce Moore, a Eugene attorney who represents Puddle Jumper, denied those claims.
“We deny all allegations of wrongdoing, and we anxiously await the judicial process working through the claims being made, and are confident that the true facts will come out,” Moore said.
Kevin Lafky, a Salem attorney who represents Crockett’s, said the lawsuit stems from “frustration with the public authorities who refuse to address these issues. It’s one thing to have arguments with a competitor, it’s another thing to have the public authorities that are supposed to be administering these systems and the public authorities aren’t doing their job.”
Lafky said he doesn’t know why Crockett’s has been left off the towing list.
“We’ll have to develop the facts in this case and figure out exactly what the motivation was here. But certainly here the authorities are not paying attention to repeated complaints and problems,” he said.
Lafky said this should be a matter of public concern.
“Anyone whose car breaks down, who gets stuck in the snow, who has a mechanical problem and doesn’t know what tow company to call and relies upon the police to call out for assistance is somebody that ought to be concerned about how these towing situations are managed,” he said.
Lafky said a lawsuit wasn’t Crockett’s first choice, but efforts to engage in constructive conversation were rebuffed. He said both police departments have known about Crockett’s complaints for a long time, and have brushed them off instead of investigating.
OSP and the Sheriff’s Office declined comment. It is against both agencies’ policies to comment on pending litigation.