Allegations of such solicitations are included in a professional misconduct suit filed by the State Bar of Texas against lawyer Ronald J. DeSimone. Among the charges are that a wrecker driver gave a 17-year-old accident victim a ride from an accident scene directly to a doctor in whose office she signed an agreement to be represented by DeSimone, and that a couple who had been in an accident were given one of DeSimone's business cards by a wrecker driver who suggested they call the lawyer. (DeSimone, who's being represented by Richard "Racehorse" Haynes in the State Bar suit, could not be reached by the Press.)

None of the seven allegations made against DeSimone mention CRS, but he has had ties to the shop. The lawyer was a cosigner on a June 1993 loan to CRS from Amerisource Funding Inc. A $37,645 unsecured debt to Amerisource is listed in Spence's bankruptcy filing.

And DeSimone originally represented CRS and Spence in lawsuits brought by both Promila Kohli and Jennie Cordero, whose 1993 Ford Probe was towed to CRS in January 1994 for repair of a damaged front end. When the car had not been fixed by March, Cordero's attorney, Norman Roser, won an emergency court order from Judge Toni Lindsay to remove the car from CRS. In Roser's petition to the court, he predicted that without the judge's intervention "defendants shall never return her vehicle, shall use bankruptcy as a shield against future liability."

"She ordered them to simply return the car, now, without getting any payment," Roser says. "It was through the order of the court, which was an extraordinary remedy. For a judge to do that is a hall of famer."

Roser took the case on a contingency basis, but says he determined early on that he would not be getting anything out of CRS. He thought his best shot was just to get Cordero's car back -- fixed or unfixed. Four months after it was towed to CRS, he did.

"We took it back in pieces on a tow truck," Roser says. "It's a damn good thing we did, because they went bankrupt shortly thereafter, in which case she never would have gotten her car back."

Like Promila Kohli, Roser's client probably never imagined that the routine act of being towed away for repairs would force her to hire a lawyer and go to court. Betty "Kit" Clark, the lawyer who represented Kohli, specializes in consumer fraud suits and says many of the 100 or so would-be clients who contact her each month are seeking redress for auto-related complaints.

"Sometimes when people walk in my office and tell me what's happened to them, I just want to break down and cry," Clark says. "It's cruel, particularly in situations where their cars are concerned, because that's their bread and butter." What she's encountered in her practice has led Clark to believe that the wrecker/body shop industry "is out of control."

Until that changes, though, about the only sage bit of advice that can be given to Houston's drivers as they speed along the interstates and surface roads that bind the city together is to watch your back. And as someone once said in a different context -- be careful out there.

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