Local News

January 30, 2014

23 cars towed in Varnell neighborhood

Police chief says emergency vehicles couldn’t get through

Several residents who couldn’t drive to the top of a hill where they live because of Tuesday’s snow are frustrated because Varnell police towed 23 vehicles that night, a move officials said was necessary so emergency responders could pass through.

Ryan Bartenfield, who lives on King’s Row in the London Village subdivision, said he was forced to leave his vehicle parked off to the side on nearby Village Drive on his way home because of the icy road conditions that caught many people off guard. When he awoke the next morning, a neighbor informed him his truck had been towed. Bartenfield said he was surprised and frustrated because he had permission from the nearby property owner to have his truck there and had left enough room for other vehicles to get by.

“It’s a pretty wide road,” he said. “I just think it was a bad call by whoever made that decision.”

Police Chief Lyle Grant said he knew the move would be unpopular, but after a fire truck and an ambulance responding to a report of an elderly woman with chest pains couldn’t reach her residence and take her to a hospital until an hour-and-a-half after the call came in, he decided to take action. Grant and neighbors interviewed by The Daily Citizen didn’t immediately know the woman’s condition. Grant said responders were finally able to get the woman out to the ambulance partly by walking and partly by using a Gator-type vehicle to navigate from her home to the waiting ambulance. He said he knew there was no way a fire truck was getting to several of the homes should another emergency arise.

“You’ve got to keep the roadways clear,” he said.

Latrelle Eubanks said she understands the need to keep roads clear for emergency vehicles and was sympathetic toward the woman. She’s just frustrated after she said a police officer told her earlier in the day to move her car to the right side of the road. She said she did, and it was towed hours later. She said her vehicle was partially on the road but not blocking traffic.

“I just feel like they should have towed what needed to be towed and not every car out there,” Eubanks said. “There was no reason to tow all 23 cars.”

Lt. Scott Casey said that while not all the vehicles were blocking the road, some near the top were parked three across so that no one could get through. For a wrecker to safely navigate the road to get to the vehicles causing the main problems, all the vehicles had to be moved, he said. He said wreckers towed a vehicle belonging to one of their own officers as well as one belonging to a Whitfield County Sheriff’s Office deputy’s family member. He said officers didn’t want to discriminate or be put in a position of picking and choosing to move only certain vehicles.

Asked if anyone tried to contact the owners before towing the vehicles, Grant and other officers said they didn’t do so in this case because it would have slowed the process and sucked valuable time from already overworked dispatchers handling calls for other situations. Grant said wreckers were so busy responding to other situations they couldn’t begin clearing the neighborhood until late Tuesday evening. Once crews arrived, they were there until the early morning hours. The Varnell Police Department posted what happened on its Facebook page the following day.

Emma Warren, who lives part-way up Village Drive, said the road was blocked near the top of the hill just past her driveway. Her vehicle was parked in her driveway and wasn’t towed, she said, but there were vehicles up and down the road on both sides and, in some cases, in the ditches.

“People were doing probably the best they could do,” she said.

Eubanks and Bartenfield said there are other ways in and out of the neighborhood, but Warren said an alternate road was at least temporarily blocked, and police said Village Drive was the only way they had to get to certain homes.

Grant said it’s illegal in Georgia to block a road. While none of the vehicle owners was ticketed, several reported having to pay an $85 or $90 fee — depending on which wrecker service was used — to retrieve their vehicles.

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