Laura Lee Henderson a planner at the Guam Housing & Urban Renewal Authority was driving to work on March 23 and was involved in a collision at 7:45 a.m.

What happened next is a scenario that Frank T. Ishizaki acting chief of the Guam Police Department said was illegal. Tow truck operators not only made it to the scene before police officers but approached Henderson immediately in contravention of the law. How towing truck companies track such accidents can also be illegal.

Henderson said “I normally avoid Marine Drive especially Dededo at all costs because of the crazy drivers who usually never obey traffic laws. I was only there because I had training at one of the hotels. I was in the middle of the Dededo construction area — across from the Napa Auto Supply and K Enterprise’s — where the two lane road narrows to a lane-and-a-half.”

Henderson was then involved in a collision with a 1980 Toyota. ”My car received damage on the passenger side fender front bumpers the undercarriage the inside liner and all the headlights and turn lights on that side.”

Whether a tow truck company has obtained an illegal transceiver two-way radio with police frequencies or obtained legal expensive trunking scanners companies understand the police language and are on the scene in most cases faster than the police themselves. While it is illegal to have the transceivers with police frequencies it is not illegal to have the scanners.

The Guam Police Department is in the process of updating to a system used throughout the mainland that will soon make it impossible for even scanners to be used to monitor police activities. However until that occurs tow truck operators illegally approaching the site of an accident and offering services prior to police arrival occurrs on a daily basis.
Henderson said before she could leave the vehicle a Roadside Towing Service truck driver appeared at the driver’s door.

“He asked if I was okay. At this point he was very courteous and was calling me ma’am. When I opened my door the first thing he did was hand me his card and said not to lose it.”

Henderson exited the vehicle and was heading towards the other driver. At that point she said “The man told me my car would have to be towed and he was the only honest tow truck driver. He kept saying he wouldn’t rip me off and he would only charge me $40 for the tow. He asked me what insurance I had.” Henderson said she had still not approached the other driver. “He simply was in my face the whole time telling me that his company had a body shop and I could make payments if I needed too.”
Henderson then used her cellular phone to call the police and her husband Michael P. Henderson marketing of communication advertisement at the Port of Guam. “I was shaking and worried that the other lady was hurt because she hadn’t opened her car door.”

Henderson told the tow truck operator to wait and went to the other driver.
“Fortunately she was fine. Just then another tow truck arrived on the scene and the operator came up and asked what insurance coverage I had. I said because my car is paid off I only have liability with medical coverage. The second tow truck driver started to tell me about his company but the first one started yelling ‘He is lying ma’am ’ It was like a fight was going to start right then and there — these two grown men were yelling over prices and it was pure insanity.”

Henderson said the police arrived about 10 minutes after the collision and by that time “There were at least six tow truck drivers all standing around me yelling the same thing ‘Let me have your car. The other guys will just rip you off. You’ll never see your car again if you let them take it.’ Once they found out I only had liability it got worse because they started saying ‘You shouldn’t use your insurance because they will charge your more.’”

Henderson said the experience was distressing. “By this time I couldn’t think. These tow truck guys were all around me. I felt like a piece of meat that the vultures were fighting over. They were all yelling at me at the same time and basically saying the same thing. It was just horrible.”

The two policemen finally told the tow-truck drivers to cease and desist she said but the pause was momentary. “The longer the policeman talked to me the closer they started circling around me and the policeman. After the policeman had warned them three or four times he said ‘What they are doing is totally illegal. They are not even supposed to approach you until after you’ve spoken to the police.’ He asked if I wanted to make a formal complaint.” By this time Henderson’s husband arrived on the scene took the tow truck operators to one side and said the Henderson’s had Moylan’s Insurance Underwriters roadside assistance program and would be using that service.
Moylan’s offers a discounted towing service with Mega Towing company and Staywell Insurance has a program with Roadside Towing company. Calvo’s Insurance provides roadside assistance through Reliable Towing Services Inc.

GCA Title 16 Chapter 12 known as the Tow Truck Law specifically prohibits the owner or operator of a tow truck to stop at the scene of an accident for the purpose of soliciting and engagement towing services either directly or indirectly. Nor may the truck furnish any towing services unless summoned to the scene requested to stop or flagged down by the owner or operator of a disabled vehicle or requested to perform the service by a law enforcement officer or public agency. The Guam Police Department is also required to call tow trucks in rotational order to the scene of the accident from the Tactical Operations Command.

There were 884 accidents on the island in 2003 that required the Guam Police Department to send trucks to have vehicles impounded. There are an undetermined number of accidents where police are called to the scene but the vehicle may or may not be towed following an agreement between the vehicle owner and a towing company. Lt. Gene A. Tenneson acting staff assistant to the chief of police of the Guam Police Department said there were possibly 10 000 accidents in 2003.

Anthony C. Lujan is owner and operator of Big Ben & Co which provides light and heavy equipment rental and is a towing company mainly for heavy equipment like buses and large tractor rigs.

He said the industry is in a “state of total chaos ” and the police are to blame for such situations on Guam’s highways because tow companies are not called in strict rotation as legislation demands. “The police are corrupt and it has been that way for many years. We used to have a code of ethics among the operators and we all shared that. I know of three companies: Johnny Cool’s Agana Springs and JP Towing who were forced out of business all because the police do not use the mandated protocol.

Other towing companies when contacted by the Journal declined to comment for the story.

Ishizaki said that they are quite satisfied with the rotational schdule as it stand today and it seems to be working fine He did say he is putting tow truck drivers on notice that “There is a new chief in town and this one is not going to tolerate the old-boy system.”

Lujan meanwhile is leading a campaign to bring solidarity and equity to the towing industry. MBJ