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Towing procedures blamed for death; Business owner says threats are common

A former boss of the tow-truck driver fatally shot in Buffalo over the weekend said he believes the way the city handles motor vehicle crashes may have contributed to the operator's death.

Robert Corsi, of Chase Towing, also said he has been told Corddaryl Henley was threatened by another tow-truck operator with a gun the night before he was killed.

Corsi described what he said are typical circumstances in Buffalo, where tow-truck companies race to the crash scene after hearing a report over a police scanner.

It's not unusual for some drivers to threaten other drivers with weapons, Corsi said, adding that he has been threatened with a knife at a scene.

"It happens all the time with these guys," Corsi said. "It's like fighting for their food out there."

Corsi said that in most other municipalities, towing companies are put on call for a week, with several companies rotating the duty of responding to scenes.

In the City of Buffalo, however, it's first come, first served.

"It's insane," he said.

Buffalo police have not said anything about a potential motive in the case.

Mike Norris, the owner of Patriarch Towing, where Henley worked at the time of his death, acknowledges the competition between drivers at scenes, but he said it's usually verbal in nature.

The towing company that ends up with the business from a scene usually depends on whom the car owner selects, as well as input from the police, Norris said.

Because there are multiple companies competing, it can come down to which driver offers a better deal to the customer, he said.

"Everybody obviously wants the wreck," Norris said. "Everybody obviously wants to get paid to feed their family."

Henley, 25, was shot shortly before 1:40 p.m. Saturday at Walden Avenue and Latour Street, just east of Martin Luther King Park, after dropping off a vehicle at Latour Auto, police said.

Henley was still inside his truck when a gunman fired multiple shots at him from a silver or gray vehicle.

Henley's truck crashed into the front porch of a Walden Avenue home, after striking a parked car, fire hydrant and another vehicle traveling westbound on Walden.

Henley was a married father of six and a hard worker, said Corsi, Henley's boss up until about three months ago.

Norris described Henley as a family man and a dedicated, hardworking employee who loved what he did and who taught him a lot about the towing industry.

"He will forever be remembered at this company," said Norris, who founded Patriarch Towing about four months ago and who responds to scenes as a truck operator.

After six to eight months in the towing business, Chase Towing is likely moving out of responding to crash scenes because of the danger for employees, Corsi said.

The situation could be remedied, he said, if the city followed a different process for using towing companies at crash scenes.

"It's such an easy fix," he said.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. said the city does have a law on the books, from May 2001, that requires tow-truck operators to be licensed and that says only licensed operators can be called to scenes.

Apparently the legislation's requirements have never been followed, Golombek said, in part because towing from crash scenes is not a lucrative business in the city.

There are few serious accidents, he said, and many drivers prefer to call their own tow trucks.

"I have heard horror stories" about crash scenes, Golombek said, where tow-truck drivers "start yelling and screaming at each other."

The lawmaker said he plans to review what's required in the ordinance.

City Corporation Counsel Tim Ball said Monday night that the Police Department is empowered to establish tow zones designed to ensure the best towing coverage, dispatch efficiency, response time and convenience for drivers claiming their vehicles.

It was not clear late Monday whether police have established such zones.

"Once a zone is established, only the tower assigned to the zone will be allowed to tow vehicles in the zone," Ball said.

Ball said authorized city towers are to be dispatched from a list designated for that zone on a rotational basis, but the police department will determine at the crash scene whether a tower is qualified.

News Staff Reporter Matt Gryta contributed to this report.