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Towing company files lawsuit challenging removal from police department’s list

A towing company is challenging a Southold Town Police Department decision to remove them from the rotation of approved towing companies.

According to a lawsuit filed Sept. 16 in Suffolk County Court, Phil Wilkinson, who owns Wilk’s 24 Hour Towing & Recovery Inc., alleges that the police department acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when his company was removed from their list in May.

In the filing, Mr. Wilkinson claims that he applied and was approved for the police department’s list in December 2015 and was advised in May that the company was being removed from the list, but wasn’t given a reason why.

According to the guidelines set forth by the police department, grounds for removal from the rotation include unavailability — three refusals in a three-month period will be subject to review for retention on the list — and overcharging for services.

Under the code, adopted in 2008, mileage rates are capped at $4.50 per mile and tow operators must be available 24 hours per day, including weekends and holidays, and must respond within 45 minutes.

The code does require towing companies to have a location within Southold Town and notes that they serve at the discretion of the police chief, with no contract implied by placement on the list.

In the court filing, Mr. Wilkinson argues that while participating as an approved vendor, his company never refused a towing assignment and was never unavailable to respond.

He alleges that he asked the department for specific reasons for the company’s removal, but “STPD failed and refused to respond to the request.”

Police maintain the list of about six towing companies to deal with abandoned and disabled vehicles, respond to accident scenes or impound vehicles that are illegally parked or involved in crimes, according to Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley.

He deferred further comment to town attorney Bill Duffy, who said in an interview that the decision was made after the town received “several complaints” about the company.

“They were supposed to have a local place of business in the Town of Southold that they operate out of,” Mr. Duffy said.

Though the court document states that Wilk’s 24 Hour Towing & Recovery Inc. is a New York Corporation “with a place of business in the Town of Southold,” no address is provided in the 24-page document.

New York State Department of State Division of Corporations records show the company was registered using Mr. Wilkinson’s home address in Riverhead. A Google search of the company supplies three addresses: one is for a Kroemer Avenue storage yard in Riverhead, another is a Mattituck residence owned by an East Moriches couple and the third is for a vehicle lot located behind Eastern Energy Systems on Sound Avenue in Mattituck. It’s unclear if Mr. Wilkinson had been leasing space from that property owner.

“He was using somebody’s address. You need to keep your equipment there and dispatch from there,” Mr. Duffy said. “They were operating out of Riverhead, so people were waiting a long time to get dispatched and then being charged for the tow to Riverhead, instead of a local spot.”

The court filing does not seek any monetary compensation but instead asks for the company to be reinstated on the list.

It makes additional claims that several other companies on the list do not comply with the police department guidelines, though it’s unclear if the town is reviewing those vendors as well.

Mr. Wilkinson referred a request for comment to his attorney, Eric Bressler of Mattituck, who said Monday that it was his policy to not comment on clients’ pending cases.

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