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‘Courtesy’ towing claims more victims during filming of Adam Sandler’s ‘Hustle’

Despite years of complaints, no one in city government appears to have taken any steps to fix the chronic courtesy-tow problem.

Ryan Layne, 22, who lives in Center City, was hit with more than $200 in costs after his Honda was “courtesy towed” from a legal parking spot on South Street to make room for film crews shooting an Adam Sandler movie.
Ryan Layne, 22, who lives in Center City, was hit with more than $200 in costs after his Honda was “courtesy towed” from a legal parking spot on South Street to make room for film crews shooting an Adam Sandler movie.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

The last Ryan Layne heard about his twice-towed Honda was a recent email from the Philadelphia Police Department.

“Any other questions,” the email read, “please let us know.”

Yeah, he’s got other questions.

For starters, Layne wants to know why his car was towed last month from his legal parking spot on South Street to a private lot on Washington Avenue.

Why did police then show up at that lot before sunrise and ticket him for unauthorized parking? This led to a second towing company hauling his car over the Schuylkill and charging him more than $200 to get it back.

And who is going to compensate him for the towing and storage fees?

The lost money isn’t going to bankrupt Layne, 22, who moved to the city in May from Newark, Del. But as a recent college graduate looking for work, he said, “I kinda need that money.”

The Inquirer sought answers and, to the surprise of absolutely no one, learned that Layne is another victim of a Philadelphia “courtesy tow” ― possibly alongside 10 or more other vehicle owners.

This particular episode involves an impossible-to-reach towing company and, apparently, Adam Sandler.

‘It seemingly disappeared’

In Philadelphia, a so-called courtesy tow — formally known as a relocation tow — takes place when the Police Department, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, or a private tow company moves legally parked vehicles to make way for special events, roadwork, or other reasons.

» READ MORE: Did you get a courtesy tow in Philly? Here’s what to do.

The towing company is supposed to relay the new location to police. But that doesn’t always happen, forcing residents to report their cars stolen so police can help locate them. They might end up searching nearby streets for days or weeks. The cars can end up in different neighborhoods altogether.

Towing companies sometimes drop vehicles off in no-parking zones, which leads to their being ticketed and impounded. Other courtesy-tow victims have been pulled over by police in New Jersey and Virginia months later for driving their own “stolen” cars, a result of shoddy recordkeeping in Philadelphia.

Despite years of complaints, no one in city government appears to have taken any steps to fix the chronic courtesy-tow problem.

In Layne’s case, he reached out to police in the 3rd District in early October and was told that his car had been towed to make room for crews filming Sandler’s Hustle, the Netflix basketball movie.

Police say the film’s production company hired a business called Greater Philadelphia Towing, which apparently stashed the cars at Wing Phat Plaza on Washington Avenue.

Police, starting at 1 a.m., began ticketing cars at the plaza for unauthorized parking. George Smith Towing, which the plaza uses to deal with illegally parked cars there, towed and impounded them.

When Layne sought answers from police again this month, they blamed Greater Philadelphia Towing. “They should be responsible because they moved your vehicle from a legal spot to an illegal spot,” a 3rd District police officer emailed Layne.

Layne has been unable to reach Greater Philadelphia Towing. Not for lack of trying.

» READ MORE: ‘What a nightmare’: How Philly police, parking authority, and tow companies lose cars while ‘courtesy’ towing

The company’s phone number goes to a voicemail inbox that is full, and no one responded to an Inquirer text message sent to that number.

The address listed on the company’s Instagram page ― which features recent videos of cars being towed with the hashtag #MoneyOnDaRoad — is an unmarked brick building in East Germantown. A neighbor said he believes it is unoccupied.

A different address for Greater Philadelphia Towing appears on signs at parking lots that apparently use the company’s services. That address is for a car lot in East Germantown with a small trailer on cinder blocks. On Wednesday, when The Inquirer visited, a man sitting in a car there called a woman he said worked for a different towing company that operates the lot. She said she had “never heard of Greater Philadelphia Towing.”

Michael DeFino, a lawyer for George Smith Towing, said 11 cars were towed from Wing Phat Plaza that day, including Layne’s.

After paying George Smith Towing $205 to get his car back, Layne had planned to file an online appeal of the $26 ticket that police had written. But the ticket number didn’t come up on the PPA’s website.

“It seemingly disappeared somewhere between the Police Department and the PPA,” Layne said last week.

Marty O’Rourke, a PPA spokesperson, said that due to an apparent processing error a batch of police-issued tickets were not entered into the Parking Authority’s system, including the 11 from Wing Phat Plaza.

Hours after The Inquirer asked about Layne’s ticket, it showed up online. Payment was due weeks ago.

O’Rourke said the PPA had no role in the towing incident.

“It’s beyond me why a private tow truck operator would relocate vehicles to a private supermarket parking lot,” he said.

» READ MORE: ‘Borderline illegal’: Courtesy tows remain Philly’s persistent parking nightmare

Who is responsible?

As for who hired Greater Philadelphia Towing and why, both the police and Sandler’s management agency referred questions to the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.

Sharon Pinkenson, its executive director, said Friday her office often organizes street clearing for film shoots, but it only uses police tow trucks.

“It’s not like they take them and they get ticketed or anything,” she said. “As a courtesy, they just move them to the next-closest place.”

On Monday, Pinkenson said that the film office wasn’t involved in the towing but that she heard that a private company was used for the Sandler film. She referred questions about the hiring of Greater Philadelphia Towing to Troy Coffee, a freelance location scout and manager. Coffee did not respond Monday or Tuesday to requests for comment.

Crystal Jacobs, a spokesperson for the city Streets Department, would not say whether the department had issued a permit for a temporary no-parking zone on South Street on the date the cars were towed, or identify who requested it.

Layne appealed the ticket this week after it finally appeared on the PPA’s website, but it is unclear whether he’ll be able to recoup the tow and storage fees. He said there should at least be a system to notify those people with residential parking permits when their cars have been moved, because the city already has their contact information.

“I feel that’s a pretty natural extension of that system,” said Layne, who majored in economics and political science and is looking for a job in policy or data analysis.

A first step, though, is to get someone in Philadelphia government to address the problem.

“One can only hope,” Layne said.