Law Tells Tow Truck Drivers to Give Up Cars in Dispute

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Byline: Lorilyn Rackl Daily Herald Staff Writer

Peter Bernaeyge has been towing cars for two decades, and he admits his job can be dangerous.

He's had cars hooked up to his truck when angry owners appear on the scene.

"I personally have had situations where I've been confronted," said Bernaeyge, owner of Pete's A-Towing in East Dundee. "I'm not fearful, because I know I'm going to let the car down. They'll be happy, and I'm on my way."

Bernaeyge isn't just being a nice guy. He's obeying the law.

According to state statute, it is illegal for towing companies to "remove a vehicle when the owner or operator of the vehicle is present or arrives at the vehicle location at any time prior to the completion of removal, and is willing and able to remove the vehicle immediately."

That's why Bernaeyge says he tells his drivers not to tow if a confrontation erupts.

A confrontation is exactly what erupted at the Country Pines apartments in Prospect Heights Saturday morning between a driver with another towing company, Northwest Recovery Inc. of Rolling Meadows, and 22-year-old Martin Medina, a Country Pines tenant.

Instead of ending with a peaceful resolution, Medina died when the rear wheels of the tow truck ran him over.

The driver, Warren Crum, 21, of Buffalo Grove has been charged with two traffic violations and a misdemeanor. Prospect Heights police say it was an accident and no other charges will be filed.

Officials at Northwest Recovery have declined repeated requests for comment.

Medina had been trying to stop Crum from hauling away the Ford van that belonged to his brother-in-law, who also was on the scene.

Medina jumped onto the passenger's side of the tow truck, reportedly banging on the window and shouting in Spanish for the driver to stop.

Crum told police the growing crowd had scared him, and some people were hitting his truck and throwing things at it. Saying he feared for his life, Crum drove away with the van still attached and Medina's body in his wake.

Witnesses from the apartment complex said Crum gunned the engine, causing Medina to fall under the truck. They say Crum is getting off too easy.

Zachary Wilson, the Illinois Commerce Commission police officer who oversees towing, said Crum would have been legally required to stop towing the van if the owner had approached him and told him he would remove it from the lot. …