The car Amanda Ogle lived in was stolen, then towed, then sold off for a measly $175. Not even a court order could get it back. But she didn't give in, and this week won a victory in court to reclaim the old car — and her life.
When calculating your bill, tow companies are sticklers for marking the passage of time. So let’s note for the record that when it was finally over, it took Amanda Ogle a total of 369 days, 22 hours and 51 minutes to extract her car from tow-company hell.
It also took two court orders. And it leaves unresolved the largest towing bill I’ve ever seen — for $21,634.
All due to a belligerent tug of war over a car valued at less than a grand.
That’s what it would be worth to you and me, anyway. But Ogle is homeless, and was living in her 1991 Toyota Camry. So the car is both the only thing of value she owns, and her home.
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“They thought I would break and go away,” Ogle told me outside the U District homeless shelter where she’s staying these days. “They ignored the wrong person.”
“I am shocked by this case,” said Ogle’s attorney, Kevin Eggers. “I do consumer law for a living, and it’s totally outside my realm of experience to see a company just ignore a judge’s court order for this long.”
Ogle’s yearlong odyssey began in October 2017, when her car was stolen from North Seattle. She reported it to police. They told her the next day that her car was found parked at an apartment building in SeaTac, and then towed.
Ogle went down to the tow yard and tried to get the car. No dice unless she paid $427, which she says she could not do. The tow yard, run by Dick’s Towing, refused to give it back to her — though they knew it had been stolen, and she told them she was homeless.
At this point, nobody had really done anything wrong.
But then Ogle filed a request for King County District Court to review the tow. This is a standard thing, and the form was provided to her by Dick’s. But pre-typed on it was the name and address of Dick’s sister company, Lincoln Towing of Seattle. The companies have the same president and general manager and are both owned by Road One West.
This triggered the court notifying Lincoln Towing of the hearing (it was their form, after all). Ogle says she also called both tow companies, pleading with them to hold onto her car until the hearing.
But the tow company claimed later they hadn’t been properly notified, and so didn’t show. Ogle represented herself. The judge, learning the basic facts of the story, concluded what any common-sense person would: The old car’s everything to her, and she is blameless. So just give it back.
“The vehicle was stolen,” Judge Ketu Shah wrote on his order. “Vehicle must be returned to registered owner.”
Well that’s where it gets infuriating. It turns out the towing company had already sold off Ogle’s car — for a measly $175.
“So I win a court order on my own, but I still lose,” Ogle recalls thinking at the time. “I almost gave up right there. I might have, if they had ever just called and said they were sorry or something.”
Instead, Ogle found the Northwest Consumer Law Center, a tiny two-lawyer shop formed in Seattle recently to help the poor with consumer problems. An attorney there, Eggers, sent Lincoln a letter citing the judge’s order and asking for damages. Lincoln responded that it had bought the car back and Ogle could have it — but only if she first released any claims against the companies.
“So basically they were using the car as leverage to get out of any liability,” Eggers said. “The car is Amanda’s home, and it was the middle of winter. But to them it’s a bargaining chip.”
Lincoln then played tow-company hardball. The company started gouging her $75 per day to store the car. That’s $2,300 per month — enough to rent the 27-year-old car its own apartment with granite countertops in a downtown high-rise. By Monday, the bill, with tax, had reached $21,634.
“Additional fees may apply,” it says helpfully at the bottom.
But that day, Ogle went before another judge and asked him to hold Lincoln in contempt. The two sides had incredibly filed 21 different pleadings totaling more than 300 pages. Lincoln, in its filing, said that it had gone to “extraordinary lengths” to return the car to Ogle — by which it means offering her $1,000 to drop her lawsuit last spring.
Judge Gregg Hirakawa laser-focused on how the first court order had been ignored for nearly a year. Judges can play hardball, too.
“For every calendar day Lincoln Towing does not return the vehicle, Lincoln Towing will forfeit a sum of two-thousand dollars to the court,” Hirakawa’s new order says.
Message delivered, as Lincoln released the car that afternoon (though not the title). The two sides will continue to battle about damages in court, the title and that outrageous $21,634 bill. But Ogle said she feels like a lost year of her life has been found.
“I drove down the freeway, with the windows open, saying ‘I’m free! I’m finally free,’ ” she said.
I can’t top that, but will add two things. One is that Lincoln Towing is the city of Seattle’s official tow partner. Hey Seattle, did you know you’re in league with a company willing to charge homeless people car-storage fees higher than the average apartment rent?
Two: Remember years ago when I wrote all those columns about the $800 tow and how Seattle was the price-gouging Wild West of towing? And politicians rushed in and passed new ordinances and state laws, then proclaimed they had fixed it all?
Take it from Amanda Ogle: They didn’t.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Ogle’s name was misspelled in the 6th paragraph.