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Towing rules changed following probe; Alleged bribery, killing spur move

Buffalo is changing its towing policies and procedures, following a federal investigation into alleged bribery and the murder of a tow-truck driver.

The city will only allow one towing company to respond to a crash scene, establish an authorized tower list and create a weekly rotation among towing companies, Mayor Byron W. Brown announced Friday.

In addition, there will be a standard rate for towing, and an employee of the city's Parking Department will now respond to clean up crash scenes.

The changes will "add clarity and order" to what some tow companies have described as wild scenes where tow operators race to crashes and then compete for the business, Brown said.

Law enforcement sources told The Buffalo News last week that city officials had asked federal investigators more than a year ago to look into alleged bribery payments made to police personnel by tow operators.

Corddaryl Henley, a driver for Patriarch Towing, was shot and killed May 5 at Walden Avenue and Latour Street, just east of Martin Luther King Park, after dropping off a vehicle at Latour Auto.

Police have not revealed a motive in the case, but Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda on Friday said investigators are "making progress" and he believes an arrest will be made.

He did not give a timetable.

Investigators at one time were operating under the theory that a dispute with another tow-truck operator led to the shooting, but then began looking into whether drugs may have played a role in the homicide.

Derenda declined to go into any detail about the investigation during a news conference on the steps of City Hall that was called to announce the towing changes.

Under the new policies and procedures, any vehicle blocking traffic or obstructing the right of way will continue to be towed by the city, to either a city garage on Dart Street or the police impound lot, if it is tied to an ongoing investigation.

Drivers in crashes whose vehicles are not disrupting traffic or blocking the right of way will continue to be able to call the towing company of their choice, officials said.

Changes to the policies and procedures go into effect today.

Tow companies will be allowed to charge $80 for a standard tow, or $90 for a flat-bed tow. The city also will charge a $25-per-day storage fee.

There are currently only two companies on the city's list of authorized tow operators.

The upcoming weeks are seen as a "trial period," Parking Commissioner Kevin J. Helfer said, noting that the city will be looking to add more companies to the list.

In order to get on the authorized list, companies will have to provide proof their employees have been tested for drugs.

Helfer said he's been contacted by three companies in the last two days interested in providing towing services.

The city also will develop an evaluation system, he said.

The Parking Department used to have employees working on shifts around the clock only in the winter. But with the implementation of these changes, as well as the start of the use of license plate readers, there will always be employees available to respond at any time, Helfer said.

A license already is required in order to conduct towing operations in the city. Any company that does not follow the new procedures could have its license suspended or revoked, city officials said.

These changes do not require approval of the Common Council because they are already authorized under current city code, said Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Ball.