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Man charged after having vehicles towed

July 26, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - The manager of a private parking lot in downtown Hagerstown was charged Thursday with having two cars illegally towed from the lot earlier this month, according to Washington County District Court records.

Gregory Gutierrez, who manages the parking lot behind his residence at 41 1/2 S. Potomac St., was charged by the Hagerstown Police Department with two counts of towing from privately owned facilities, according to court records. Each count carries a $1,000 fine if he is convicted.

Gutierrez, 47, said he fights a daily battle to keep people from parking there, including customers from The Peach Pub, a bar and restaurant that is next door, and those who have business at the neighboring Washington County District Court.

Gutierrez was charged after two cars were towed from his lot on July 9 because he didn't have the proper signage, according to court records. The signs were about 30 inches by 24 inches and posted on the back of buildings at heights up to 15 feet above the ground, according to records.

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Hagerstown Police Department Patrolman Jesse Duffey wrote in the charging documents that the signs were too far away from the parking lot and had "no relevance to the parking spaces in the middle of the lot where the vehicles were parked."

Gutierrez said there wasn't a problem before June 20, when a city ordinance took effect that changed the way no-parking signs have to be posted in private lots. Before the ordinance was passed, adequate signage was posted on the buildings and utility poles that are adjacent to the lot, he said. Those signs kept people from parking there.

But when the city removed three of the signs to comply with the ordinance - leaving one sign on the back of The Peach Pub at 43 S. Potomac St. and another on the back of Gutierrez's building - people began parking wherever they wanted, he said. It was then that Gutierrez began cracking down by calling the tow trucks.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said Gutierrez needs to comply with the ordinance regardless of the way things used to be.

"Complying with this ordinance is not that difficult," Smith said. "We just need to have this towing ordinance complied with."

Smith said the signs in Gutierrez's lot failed to meet the following two requirements:

· Identify that a towed or removed vehicle may be reclaimed from the location to which it has been towed at any time, 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

· State the maximum amount that the owner of the vehicle may be charged for the towing or removal of the vehicle, including storage fees, as set by the Hagerstown Police Department.

The police department allows towing companies to charge a maximum $100 fee from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and $125 thereafter, Smith said. Tow companies are permitted to charge a maximum of $25 per day to store a vehicle.

The signs in Gutierrez's lot say that the minimum daily fee is $100 and the maximum daily fee is $210.

Smith said the parking ordinance was drafted because a problem with cars being towed existed long before this month. In March, for example, towing companies charged people who parked in private lots during a show at The Maryland Theatre up to $250 in cash to reclaim their vehicles, Smith said.

Gerry Gibson, owner of Blue Ridge Towing, supported Gutierrez, saying there was no problem with the signs in Gutierrez's lot before the city adopted the ordinance.

"The proper signs were on that lot," Gibson said.

Dave Peacher, owner of The Peach Pub, did not return a phone call seeking comment.




Sign requirements

The City of Hagerstown requires signs in private parking lots to meet the following requirements:

· Signs must be clearly visible to the driver of a motor vehicle entering or being parked in said parking lot.

· Signs must identify the location to which the vehicle will be towed or removed.

· Signs must identify a telephone number of a person who can be contacted to arrange for the reclaiming of a towed or removed vehicle by the owner, which number shall be attended or monitored by an individual, 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

· Signs must identify that a towed or removed vehicle may be reclaimed from the location to which it has been towed at any time, 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

· Signs must state the maximum amount that the owner of the vehicle may be charged for the towing or removal of the vehicle, including storage fees, as set by the Hagerstown Police Department.

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