Today: Dudette, where’s my car?

Tony Homsi lived downtown. He paid a monthly fee to park his 2014 Volkswagen Passat in the nearby Ed Coy Garage. One day in 2021 he was shocked and dismayed to discover that his car was gone.

Stockton’s municipal garages are managed by LAZ Parking, a national company. A staffer at LAZ’s local office, Kimberly, told him they had towed his car, Homsi said.

Homsi was stunned. “She told me, ‘Your doors were unlocked. We thought it was abandoned.’ These were her exact words.”

Homsi’s Passat was in no way abandoned. It was paid off. Its tags were lapsed, but it was in good working order. Homsi’s monthly garage parking fee was paid up.

“I was mad. I was angry,” Homsi said. “I didn’t have a car.”

Homsi had purposely left its doors and windows open. A burglar had recently smashed car windows in the garage; Homsi removed his valuables and left the windows down so they would not be smashed.

Explaining this, Homsi felt surreal. Why should he have to explain?

“The arrogance—because my car doors were unlocked, she had every right to tow my car. Can you show me the law that says I can’t keep my doors unlocked?”

It went downhill from there, Homsi said.

Kimberly continued to justify the tow, offering flimsy explanations with an air of lofty authority, Homsi said. As the windows-down defense crumbled, she shifted to other defenses.

The Passat sat there unused, therefore it was abandoned, she said.

What? Even if he wasn’t using his car—even if he didn’t use it for a year–that is not abandonment. That is just not using the car.

Kimberly said she had observed Homsi pulling up in another car. She assumed he had abandoned the Passat.

What? What? Just because he occasionally uses his girlfriend’s car does not mean his car was abandoned, Homsi said.

Kimberly said she had left a note on Homsi’s car informing him the car could be towed. Homsi had not responded. The tow was legit.

What? Homsi was registered with LAZ as a renter. They had his mailing address, email address, and phone number. “They know how to get in touch with me. Something as important as towing my car, why would they just leave a note on the car?”

Finally, Kimberly ran up the white flag. She said that she did not have his file in the office (then where was it?). But she would find his car and arrange its return.

She said she would get back to him in a day, said Homsi, who by then was reeling. “When someone steals from you, you feel violated, but when someone blames you for stealing your own stuff you are dumbfounded.”

A week passed. Kimberly did not call. Finally, Homsi got her on the phone. She said they had searched for his car all week but … well … they could not find it.

How was this possible? Kimberly could not say. Homsi was staggered. “I felt scared. I felt like I was going to be railroaded out of my car.”

Staffers at LAZ’s local office did not return calls for comment.

According to Homsi, Kimberly said the car had been towed by Ihaul Towing and Trucking. She gave Homsi the number. Homsi called Ihaul.

An Oct. 27, 2021 letter from Homsi’s attorney to LAZ alleges what happened next: A man at Ihaul answered the phone, identified himself as “Dre,” the owner, and said one of his employees had “messed up.”

The attorney’s letter adds a plot twist: “The fact is, this person named Dre was, based on witness information, the person who towed the car.”

The “witness information,” according to Homsi, was an LAZ insider with loose lips.

In other words, allegedly the man who towed Homsi’s car pretended to be the man’s boss to weasel out of the conversation and deflect responsibility.

Homsi called the police.

Police identified the owner of Ihaul as Andrew Howell. A police investigator listed the vehicle on the police report as stolen.

But the investigator never interviewed Howell. By then, Homsi had lawyered up, preparing to sue. “Once it appeared to be a civil matter, that’s when he stopped the investigation,” said Officer Joe Silva, the SPD’s spokesman.

Howell at Ihaul did not return a call for comment.

The police investigator did unearth another irregularity. Both a company ordering a tow and the tow company must by law notify police of the tow. Neither notified the police.

In December of 2021 LAZ offered Homsi a settlement: $7,190. “We do, however, find unpaid parking charges (prior to the vehicle being towed) totaling $1,008 which were deducted from the value of the vehicle for a settlement offer of $6,182.”

Homsi’s lawyer rejected the settlement. Homsi says the parking fees are mistaken. He offers receipts and correspondence which appear to verify he was paid up.

Besides, the settlement offered no damages for costs Homsi incurred by being carless. Costs such as Uber.

“Your theft of this vehicle has resulted in personal damages as well,” added his attorney, “since it was his only mode of transportation to necessary medical appointments, and this has caused his health to be imperiled.”

Homsi’s Volkswagen was never found. Ultimately Homsi parted ways with his lawyer. That slowed a resolution.

LAZ Parking’s national spokesperson, Mary Brennan Coursey, issued a statement: “A fair offer for the 2014 Passat, less outstanding parking fees, was extended to Mr. Homsi, who declined the offer. Since that time we have received no further communication from Mr. Homsi nor his attorney.”

A year and a half later, Homsi is still carless. “These guys really put a damper on my life,” he said.  

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From doctor’s appointments to his daughter’s high school band performances—which he missed—transportation is harder. A business he planned to launch had to be tabled, he said.

“It was affecting my blood pressure,” Homsi said. “It’s working up my blood pressure right now just thinking about it.”

Homsi believes the theft of his car was an inside job. After all, he says, a tow truck cannot enter or leave the gated Coy garage without being allowed to pass by an LAZ gatekeeper.

Homsi believes the culprits targeted him in the belief he was too ill and feeble to fight back. He believes they absconded with his car and pocketed the money. He wonders if they victimized others.

“They must have chopped it up very quickly,” he said of his Passat.

In fact, the truth is unclear. The somewhat incomplete set of facts presents a spectrum of interpretation ranging from a misunderstanding to crime. Time, and perhaps a lawsuit, will tell.

Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: mfitzgeraldstockton@gmail.com.

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