A Kitsap County towing company has been ordered to repay a sailor based at Naval Base Kitsap for illegally selling his car at auction.
Last week, the state’s Attorney General’s Office announced that Bethel Garage, Inc must compensate Vincent Rowell, a former U.S. Navy sailor for selling his car while he was deployed.
It all started after Bethel Garage company towed the sailor’s car in December 2018, Vincent Rowell was on active duty on the USS Connecticut somewhere in the Pacific during that time.
He was assigned to the fast-attack submarine Connecticut and left the car with a friend during a deployment, Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Brionna Aho told the Kitsap Daily News this week.
According to the publication, the 2016 Hyundai Elantra which was later involved in an accident, was towed and sold to a scrapyard in Lacey for $5,200.
Ferguson said Bethel Garage failed to follow the law. It should have checked to see if the car was owned by an active-duty service member, he said and applied for a court order before selling it. There is a free public Department of Defense database that tow operators can use to determine whether a vehicle is owned by a service member.
Attorney General Robert Ferguson said in a news release:
“The law is clear — towing companies have an obligation to determine whether a car belongs to a member of the military, When our servicemen and women are deployed away from home and family, they should not need to worry whether their possessions are safe.”
Bethel Garage did not return a call requesting a comment. But Ferguson said the towing company, also known as Bethel Towing, changed its procedures immediately after being contacted by his office, and now complies voluntarily with state and federal guidelines.
State law allows the towing company to keep the towing fee and storage charges, but it will return the balance — $3,983 — plus $2,000 compensation, to Rowell, according to Ferguson’s spokesperson, Brionna Aho.
The Kitsap Daily News quoted Bethel Garage’s operations manager, Ron Jake, as saying the company was unaware of such laws, and that authorities “did a poor job of communicating” the law to “the people that it affected.”
The company began following the law when they became aware of such requirements, Jake noted.
“I instantly started doing it,” Jake was quoted as saying. “I am absolutely very supportive of the military. Any time I see one in uniform I always thank them for their service.”
Ferguson’s office sent a letter to more than 400 tow truck operators in September, reminding them of their legal obligations
“Unfortunately, some tow truck operators do not comply with the law,” the letter states. “My goal is not to file lawsuits. My goal is to ensure that servicemembers’ rights are protected.”