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Towed Cars in New Orleans Relocated to Random Spots

NEW ORLEANS --

When one parade-goer in New Orleans had his car towed, he went through a month-long ordeal to find it and get it back, only to learn that what happened to him is not so uncommon.

And based on a WDSU I-Team investigation into what happened, police are making changes to their vehicle-towing procedures.

Frenchman Street in the Marigny is the starting point for the parade of the infamous Krewe Du Vieux. Ryan Espinosa made sure he was there Feb. 19.

"It was a beautiful Saturday morning. I came down to enjoy the afternoon," he said.

Espinosa parked his car in the 600 block of Frenchman Street, he admits, right near a no-parking sign.

When he returned after the parade, his gold Mazda was gone. Espinosa said the police nearby told him it had been towed.

"They gave me a number of towing companies through the city who I could call who might have the car," said Espinosa.

But that turned up nothing. Espinosa even went in person to check at both city impound lots, to no avail.

"I went back to the Eighth District (police station). They didn't have the car and they didn't know where it was, so they suggested I make a stolen car report, which I did under the advisement of the Police Department," said Espinosa.

A police report obtained by the WDSU I-Team indicates that three days after Ryan's car vanished, police opened an auto theft case, classified by police as a 67a.

"I didn't think I'd ever see the car again," said Espinosa.

But one month later, everything changed, and what transpired has Espinosa and his attorney, John Adcock, angry.

According to a police report, just days into the stolen car investigation, officers suspected Espinosa's car may not have been stolen at all -- rather, they suspected it had been "relocated."

The police report even quotes Officer Alex Brady as saying "tow trucks often move cars to random spots in the city."

But Municipal Code doesn't allow tow truck drivers to simply pick up and move a vehicle. The code states that all towed cars must be taken to city impound lots.

On March 17, almost a month after Espinosa reported his car stolen, the report shows detectives located Ryan's car in the 1700 block of St. Claude Avenue, almost nine blocks away from where it was originally parked.

Ryan's car had been towed by the city's own wrecker, and the police officers who ordered it moved didn't keep a record of where it was.

"Who does this happen to? Is this a common thing?" said Espinosa.

According to the police report, yes. It said that the wrecker driver "relocated eight vehicles from the parade route that day to unknown locations."

Once again, New Orleans Municipal Code said all towed vehicles must be taken to one of two secured impound lots and the owners must pay a fee to reclaim their car or truck.

That didn't happen here.

"That we can't figure out where a car is after we tow it is crazy and frustrating," said Adcock.

And the last page of the report may be the most telling. Last month, while wrapping up this case, one of the investigating officers went to the Claiborne Avenue impound lot and asked an attendant to supply him with a list of the "towable violations" -- offenses in which the city can take a vehicle.

The report shows the attendant provided the list. It read: violations involving fire hydrants, intersections and crosswalks, parking too close to stop signs and blocking driveways.

The report said the attendant told the officer, "The city will sometimes move vehicles off a specific path and relocate the vehicle."

The officer then asked if that was within operating procedures, and the attendant replied, "You work in New Orleans, right?"

"My question is, what are we doing to correct this? Are we doing anything to make sure this doesn't happen again?" said Adcock.

Based in part on this investigation, the NOPD has announced it will make changes when it relocates cars in the future.

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