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NewsChannel 5 Investigates Tow Truck Bandits

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By Ben Hall
Investigative Reporter

Tow trucks can snatch a car in a matter of seconds and sell them to a scrap yard before most victims even know their gone. It's happening more and more in Middle Tennessee.

"I sit here with no van," said Danny Brooks as he looked at the skid marks in his back yard. "You can see where it had been picked up and towed off."

It happened while he was asleep. A tow truck backed into his yard and stole his van.

"When you completely take the van off somebody's property, that's pretty bold," said Brooks.

Metro auto detectives found his van months later. It had been stripped down and sold to a salvage yard.

"This is the condition we got it in," said Detective Reggie Miller as he pointed to a shell of a vehicle. "You have no tires, no rims."

Police determined a tow truck took it to Four Lanes Auto Salvage yard off Trinity Lane. Police found six other stolen cars there in April.

Detective Miller said it points to a growing problem, rogue tow trucks stealing cars and selling them to salvage yards.

"By the time you go in and buy a cup of coffee, by the time you come out, your vehicle could be gone," said Detective Miller.

Metro police said tow trucks have stolen more than 50 cars in just the first six months of the year.

"You have a lot of non-licensed wrecker companies that come in tow cars off the interstate and take them to a location like one of the salvage yards," said Detective Miller.

He guessed the salvage yard paid a few hundred dollars for Brooks' van. But the real money is in the parts.

"From the engine, several different parts have been taken off, different types of wires. It has been stripped," said Detective Miller.

He said the parts could be worth $2,000 dollars. Salvage yards must get a person's identification when they buy a vehicle.

The problem, according to detectives, is if a vehicle is more than 5 years old, the seller does not have to prove he owns it by showing a title.

Police cited employees at Four Lanes Auto Salvage for keeping bad records.

The records were so incomplete they couldn't tell who brought many of the cars to the salvage yard - making it difficult and in some cases impossible to prosecute.

"We need documentation on the suspect," said Detective Miller. "Who brought it in? How much did they pay for it?"

It appears the rogue wreckers are getting bolder.

"If I wouldn't have called police, my car would have been gone. I know that," said Andrew Barnes.

Barnes could not believe a tow truck tried to snatch his old jeep, in broad daylight, from a busy parking lot on Gallatin road. A co-worker saw it happening and alerted him.

"He said they just quickly hooked it and started pulling it," said Barnes. "He couldn't believe it either. That's why he ran inside."

They damaged his car, but he got the tow truck to drop it.

"There was no phone number on the side of the tow truck. There was not a name on the tow truck. That was really confusing to me," said Barnes.

Danny Brooks did not get to his van in time. He cannot bear to look at it.

"It's not going to do me any good to bring it back without tires and without things being on the motor," said Brooks.

He's now parking his car closer to home and constantly watching.

"You feel like you've been violated," said Brooks.

Salvage yards voluntarily send police information about who sold them the vehicles, but some yards do not send police any information.

Police would like to see a law that requires yards to report who sold them each vehicle.

E-mail: bhall@newschannel5.com  

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