BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - The murder of a tow truck driver in Buffalo last year revealed an ugly war waged on the streets of the Queen City: tow truck companies holding turf wars.
Roman Celniker, the general manager of Corsi Automotive on Elmwood Avenue, worked with driver Corddaryl Henley, a father of six who was shot and killed as he drove his town truck along Walden Avenue.
"Something did need to change. It was getting a little hostile at accidents. And you were getting close to a lot of fights. And it was almost like the Wild West," Celniker said.
He says the city could have taken an opportunity to make a positive change but instead found a way to benefit itself.
Celniker explained, "The city created its own monopoly, where you have no choice to take it to that company and you have to pay their fees to do business."
According to the Department of Parking, the city averages 20 to 25 tows per day following accidents. It now employs five tow truck drivers to do most of the tows internally, charging an average $90 per tow and $25 per day for impound storage.
If the city is too busy to grab the tows, they will farm them out to private companies. But for the last year the city has only allowed two private companies of its choosing to do those jobs. And the cars still go to the city impound lot.
"So now the customer doesn't get to decide where their car goes. It automatically gets towed by one of two companies and automatically gets towed to the city impound," Celniker said. "Just another money-making opportunity where it goes right to them."
Common Council President Richard Fontana questions why there are only two, and says he'd like to see more Buffalo businesses being allowed to tow and store cars.
The list will soon grow - but only to three. The city will take bids later this month from towing companies looking for those jobs.
In a telephone interview, Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer defended the city's new policy. He won't comment on camera until the news bids are due July 29th.
Corsi Automotive wanted to be on that list for the last year, but kept getting denied. It since sold half of its tow trucks.
Celniker says other businesses have even closed after losing jobs to the city. In order to survive, businesses like Corsi Automotive offer deals to customers, such as paying the city impound fee if they're hired to do the body work. So the business is paying money in order to make money.
He doesn't think the city's solution is the best solution to help out residents and local businesses.
"When you look at it from the bigger picture, and the amount of small businesses closing down because of that, it's not nearly what the taxpayers are getting back from the fees the city is collecting," Celniker argued.
Even AAA members have to use the city's tow service if the car cannot be driven off the road after an accident. But when News 4 contacted AAA about the city's policy, the company did not have a complaint.
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