Ted Bateman and his wife celebrated his 48th birthday by going to dinner and watching a flick at the new AMC Woodlands Square 20 theater on Oldsmar's Tampa Road.
That's when the pleasant evening took a turn for the worse.
Bateman's 1994 raspberry GMC Sonoma, which was parked at the Burger King restaurant next to the theater, was towed while he was watching the movie. Bateman first thought his Sonoma was stolen, but then he saw Bayside Towing and Recovery employees towing vehicles as fast as they could from the parking spaces around Burger King.
"The night was like the stock market because it was real high and then it took a nose dive real bad," Bateman said. "I came to watch a movie and it ended up costing me $154 to get my car back. Until that is stopped, we won't be back there."
When he tried to ask Bayside employees why they towed his car, all he got was attitude, he said.
"I told (the tow truck driver), "You better be glad that I didn't see you towing my truck, or you and me would be going round and round on the ground.' I was furious," Bateman said.
The Batemans are not alone.
Apparently, dozens of moviegoers' cars were towed that same night, and owners had to pay to get their vehicles back. Some say they parked at Burger King because there were no spaces near the theater.
Sam Risola, the franchisee who owns the Burger King, said his company, Samar Management, had the right to tow moviegoers' cars parked in the Burger King lot. He said since the theater opened in March, moviegoers have been filling the restaurant's lot, causing it to lose customers. Signs in the parking lot warn that unauthorized vehicles will be towed.
"We are not trying to antagonize anybody," Risola said. "We are just trying to do what's right. Those parking spaces are just for Burger King customers."
But Sembler Co., which manages the shopping center, notified some of the people whose cars were towed that only Sembler and a maintenance company can authorize towing there.
Todd Pressman, who represents the owners of the shopping center, said neither the property owners nor Sembler have authorized any towing.
"They believe that Burger King cannot tow those cars," Pressman said.
Risola said the parking spaces are on his property, so only his customers can use them. But the shopping center owners say the parking spaces are for all Woodlands Square customers, Pressman said.
Roland Palot, the theater's managing director, said he was unaware Burger King was having problems until customers told him their cars were towed.
"We are concerned and we hate to be blamed for something like this," he said. "It just seems like it should be easy to resolve."
Richard Styblewski, 38, whose wife's 1998 red Corvette was towed in April, learned that Bayside did not have a city occupational license. Styblewski also tried to file a claim with the towing firm's insurance company. He was told the policy had expired.
Curtis McGeehen, the owner of Bayside Towing and Recovery, admits not having a license when he towed Styblewski's car but said he got one soon after.
McGeehen said his company does have insurance. The insurance company just looked for the policy under an incorrect name, he said.
McGeehen said his company has stopped towing at the Burger King until the owners of the restaurant and shopping plaza come to an agreement.