Cars and Trucks

A Houston Police Towed Vehicle Hotline Horror Story

Having your car towed in Houston can be a nightmare.
Having your car towed in Houston can be a nightmare. Photo by Brickset
There wasn’t any broken glass on the street next to First Presbyterian Church in the Museum District when Daphne Scarborough went to retrieve her Ford F-150 pickup. She figured that her truck, now missing, had been towed and not stolen.

Scarborough, owner of The Brass Maiden and a Montrose community activist, phoned 311. She waited 25 minutes, listening to a painful endless loop of “please remain on the line” on the City of Houston’s non-emergency service hotline. Nobody fielded her call.

She turned directly to the Houston Police Department Records Division Tow Line. A woman told her that, yes, the truck had been towed and that the vehicle was at a lot on Schumacher, south of Richmond. But that turned out to be a body shop, not a tow lot.

She called the police again. Another woman gave her a different address on Schumacher near Crossview Drive. Scarborough’s friend gave her a lift to the lot.

Now, if you’re bored with life and need some unhinged adventure – or if you resolutely believe that the good ol’ United States of America has been overrun by handspun artisanal cocktail drinkers and a general softie population that thinks bands like Beach Fossils are actually good – go to a tow yard.

Scarborough describes a scene that’s anti-everything humane. The highlight/lowlight: An agitated man stationed behind bulletproof glass who won’t listen to Scarborough, a woman, but talks to Scarborough’s friend, a man. “It was a pretty unfriendly place,” remembers Scarborough.

The pissed-off dude insisted that the truck wasn’t there. Scarborough told him that the police had said that it was. This went on and on. The man behind the glass became more and more irate – perhaps because the stream to Beach Fossils on Spotify went down – and refused to let Scarborough and her friend look for the truck in his lot.

Scarborough’s friend called a police pal, who told her to call the Harris County Wrecker Inspection Office, which investigates shady tow truck companies. However, by this point, it was after 5 p.m. and nobody would be answering the phone until the next morning.

Scarborough decided to take a chance and bluff Mr. Hearts and Sunny Days.

“I asked my friend if we could go back to the window of the scummy office and tell them we had called for a wrecker inspector,” says Scarborough. “We did and that got the guy from behind his bulletproof window.

“It lit a fire. He jumped up and down. When you tell them ‘wrecker inspector,’ those are the magic words. It’s like dynamite. It’s how you get access. He told my friend he could go into the lot and look for my truck, but I could not go.”

Guess what? Despite what Houston police had told Scarborough, the truck wasn’t there. La La Land’s fan club president had been right all along.

By that time, it was closing in on 7 o’clock at night and Scarborough gave up for the evening. She figured her truck had met the same fate as some of her friends’ vehicles. “I have heard stories of how they move towed vehicles around for days to run up the bill” to something around $160 per day.

The next day, Scarborough tried police one more time. This time, a “very friendly officer” told her that they didn’t have a record of the vehicle getting towed. Turns out that the two Houston police representatives Scarborough had talked to the day before had quoted records from 2015, which is when a Lexus barreled through a malfunctioning traffic light and crashed into Scarborough’s truck.

Out of ideas, Scarborough decided to look around the Museum District for her truck. She found the vehicle, completely intact, a few streets over from where she had originally parked.

She’s not sure what happened, but thinks somebody may have taken it for a joyride, but then gave up because the truck, which Scarborough says can be a pain in the ass to drive and park, is as easy to navigate as HPD’s Tow Line.

“It was astounding how disorganized they were,” says Scarborough. “We don’t have good people working the police phones.”
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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen