Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco drivers towed from higher ground as Debby's floodwaters rose

Tropical Storm Debby had finally let up a bit, but much of western Pasco County remained under water last Tuesday when Mary Kaynok set out from Hudson in her 1997 Plymouth Breeze.

At Ridge Road and Congress Street in Port Richey, the 60-year-old widow tried to ease the old car through high water. "It started making a sputtering sound,'' she said, "but it kept running.''

Not for long.

Kaynok made it 3 miles north when she says the Plymouth died on U.S. 19 in front of the abandoned Service Merchandise store at Jasmine Boulevard. (Note to readers: If this sounds familiar, stay tuned.)

Kaynok called a neighbor who helped push the car into the 54,000-square-foot store's huge parking lot. She left a note with contact information in the window and said she would return for the vehicle. Three hours later she came back and the car was gone. It had been hauled away by A-1 Recovery Inc.

If Kaynok wanted her car, she would have to pay $225, plus $20 every day it sat in the impound lot.

She said she didn't have the money and dashed off an email to state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "This happened during a statewide weather emergency, mind you,'' she wrote. "I believe I am being taken advantage of much like those who are price gouged during other weather emergencies.''

By the time Fasano got Kaynok's letter, he had already dealt with several other complaints about A-1. Residents of flooded Wood Trail Village off old County Road 54 left their vehicles on higher ground, a vacant lot on Little Road that years earlier had been home to a gas station. Fasano said a limited corporation in upstate New York owns the property.

A-1 towed the cars on Monday. Ed Kelly, who had to pay $230 cash to get his 2009 Chevy Aveo back, called the Pasco County Sheriff's Office and Code Enforcement before emailing Fasano and state Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity.

Fasano called A-1 owner Aaron Watkins.

"We really got into it,'' Fasano said. "He hung up on me when I told him he was probably in violation of state law and that I was going to turn him in to the state Attorney General's Office. He called back later to apologize and said he would reimburse Mr. Kelly and three or four others from that neighborhood.''

Watkins told the Times that he agreed to reimburse the Wood Trail folks "out of the goodness of my heart.'' He said he drove around their neighborhood and saw the flooded streets.

"They parked in private parking lots,'' said Watkins, 27. "We have no way of knowing.''

But what about the storm and the state of emergency?

"The only day I stop towing is on Christmas,'' he said. "I tow over 200 cars a week'' in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. He said he employs six tow truck drivers, "strictly impounds and repos.''

"I've got a job to do,'' he said. "I'm not a bad person.''

Watkins said he pulled numerous cars out of water and removed a tree from a car in Palm Harbor. "Nobody ever hears that side,'' he said.

As for Mary Kaynok, Watkins said he doesn't believe her story.

"You're telling me she drove all that way before her car broke down?'' he said. "Impossible.''

By Tuesday afternoon, she still didn't have her car back. The fee had risen to $344.

"They told me to bring cash,'' she said. "Even if I can scrape that much up, I don't know if I can afford to get the car fixed. I don't know what to do.''

Fasano told her to get the car and bring him the receipt. He'll try to do what he did for Dawn Mitchell, a 48-year-old Holiday nursing assistant whose run-in with A-1 made the news in May.

Mitchell suffered a heart attack while driving on U.S. 19 and pulled into the Service Merchandise parking lot. A relative met her there and drove to a hospital. An A-1 wrecker, meanwhile, towed her car. Watkins refused to waive the fee, saying he had been mistreated by one of Mitchell's relatives. When Fasano read the story, he wrote Ashley Furniture headquarters in Wisconsin because Ashley leases the property and employs A-1 to patrol the parking lot.

A few days before Tropical Storm Debby hit, Fasano received a letter from Ashley, which had sent Mitchell $211. Ashley CEO Todd Wanek wrote that "all parties were innocent in their actions'' and that the reimbursement was "out of good will and the kindness of our hearts.''

Fasano said he intends to study possible legislation to protect motorists from similar impoundments during storms.

"Whether he had the right to tow or not,'' Fasano said, "it's just disappointing that someone would take advantage of homeowners in distress.''

Pasco drivers towed from higher ground as Debby's floodwaters rose 07/03/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 8:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday


    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start


    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102