No company that tows cars for parking violations will ever be beloved by the community. But while an Advanced Towing Company employee was undoubtedly mistreated by ESPN reporter Britt McHenry in a videotaped rant, her employer is an exceptionally unlikely candidate for sympathy.
ESPN suspended McHenry after she went berserk on the attendant at Advanced’s lot on North Fifth Road in Arlington. The reporter was there to pick up her car a day after it was towed out of a parking lot next to Hunan One, a Chinese restaurant in Clarendon where she reportedly dined on April 5. Like anyone else who has their car towed, McHenry was not pleasant and sunny when retreiving it, but she appears to have ignored the possibility that her exchange with Advanced would be monitored by a security camera.
“I’m in the news, sweetheart; I will fucking sue this place,” McHenry, who jumped to ESPN after a stint with WJLA, said in one of many cruel lines she flung at the attendant.
While McHenry should have left the Regina George tone at home, there’s an argument to be made that Advanced Towing richly deserved her sharp words. Even by the standards of local towing companies, Advanced has racked up an impressive number of official complaints and lingering grievances. Its reputation includes stories of discourteous employees, aggressive targeting of parked cars, and even towing vehicles parked in residential spots with permits.
Earlier this month, Advanced popped up in the news when one of its drivers started towing a car with two kids inside from the lot outside CVS store on Columbia Pike that the car’s owner was shopping at. The towing stopped only after yells from the kids, ages seven and 17, were noticed by the tow operator.
Technology consultant and writer Tom Bridge recalls having Advance tow his car from the same lot as McHenry’s about ten years ago. While he admits his towing was deserved—he parked next to Hunan One, but walked down the block to a different restaurant—he says he was shocked by how quickly it happened.
“They park a spotter car, put some high school kid in there,” says Bridge. “He calls in the tow truck which is around the corner. Literally when you’re at the end of the block they’re putting the crane on the car.”
Bridge adds that when he went to pick up his car, he was told Advanced only accepted cash and would not make change, so when he arrived with $100 to pay the $95 towing fee, he was stiffed on the $5 change.
Brad Dayspring, a Republican strategist, wrote on Twitter after McHenry’s video surfaced, that Advanced has towed his car out of his parking space at home four times, with each retrieval costing $135.
Hunan One is located in an office park on Wilson Boulevard near the Clarendon Metro station. The parking lot used by the restaurant’s diners connects to North Garfield Street. A Hunan One employee says the building’s management, not the restaurant, is responsible for monitoring whether people who park in the lot are patronizing the businesses there. But enforcment is swift. “As soon as you cross the street, you get towed,” the employee says.
Advanced Towing Company did not respond to several questions about its practices, or whether one of its employees is responsible for posting McHenry’s rant on the internet. But the company is in very poor standing among the public, and not just in the form of disgruntled Yelp reviews. It has an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau, which has tallied 15 complaints against the company in the last two months.
The Arlington Police Department also appears to be quite familiar with Advanced. While Advanced is contracted by private-sector businesses, it racked up 44 police complaints in 2014, though only four were found to be for actual violations of Arlington County’s code.
UPDATE: In a statement, Advanced says it released the security footage of McHenry “highlight personal attacks employees in jobs like towing,” but that it holds no ill will toward the sportscaster.
To Whom It May Concern:
Parking enforcement is contentious by nature. At the same time, neither Gina, our lot clerk, nor our company, have any interest in seeing Britt McHenry suspended or terminated as a result of her comments.
Ms. McHenry is our neighbor, and, as she said, to paraphrase, made remarks that were out of line. She is human and errors in judgement can be made in the heat of the moment.
Gina is a single mother of 3 children who works a difficult job to provide her family. Gina holds no ill will toward Ms. McHenry.
As a small business, we saw no benefit to releasing the video, except to highlight personal attacks employees in jobs like towing, public parking enforcement and others sometimes encounter. The video was not licensed or sold to anyone.
Advanced Towing Co.