They Steal Your Car and You Get Stuck With the Bill

Imagine your car is stolen and then on top of that, you get walloped with hundreds of dollars in fees.  It happened to a Virginia man who called the News4 I-Team because he feels like he’s been victimized twice.  As Tisha Thompson reports, there’s help out there.  But you have to know where to look.

Someone swiped Anthony Dunnam’s 1988 Jeep Cherokee this summer.

“I was no more than 25 feet away from the vehicle when it disappeared,” he says.  “It makes your heart hurt.  It’s just a vehicle, but still, it’s your life.  Without it, you can’t do what you need to do.”

Which is why he was relieved when police called him weeks later to tell him the Jeep had been found, abandoned, on a street and towed to a lot in Fairfax County.

That is, until he went to pick it up later that day.

"I asked her if she was kidding."

Dunnam says before he could get his car, he was told he would have to fork over $125 in towing fees.

“My vehicle was stolen,” he says.  “It’s not my responsibility to pay for it when somebody else parked it illegally."

Saly Fayez is the Director of Victim Services with the Fairfax County Police Department.

She says she sees this a lot. 

“It is re-victimizing,” Fayez explains.  “You're trying to figure out, “’How do I get to work the next day?  What am I going to do with my insurance?’  And the last thing you need to worry about is, ‘How am I going to get $250 to pay for my car.’"

Fayez says most victims probably don't know that in Virginia, they can get their money back if they're not at fault for the tow.  "If you have a victim that already paid and didn't know this existed, then they just need to have their receipt."

The money comes from the state treasury and takes about three to four months to get paid.  But Fayez says the paperwork can be a bit complicated, which is why her office helps fill it out for those in Fairfax. 

Attorneys General in Maryland and the District of Columbia say they do not have a similar program but victims there can ask for restitution through the court system.

Dunnam didn’t know about the program until the News4 I-Team told him about it.  “I guess they need to make it more accessible for the people that need it," he says.

He already needed money to fix damage from the car theft, including a broken ignition switch, a busted axle and a stolen radio.

His insurance didn’t cover the tow.  Out of work on disability, he had to borrow money from friends and family.  But by the time he got the cash together, the towing company had added storage fees to the bill.

"It ended up being $225 by the time it was all said and done."

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