Two wrecker company owners addressed Montgomery County Commissioners Court this morning on the issues with the new wrecker rotation policy that went into effect on January 1, 2021. Prior to the rotation policy drivers would hear a crash on the radio and then run to the scene. Once there a chip with their county wrecker number on it that went into a hat and winners would get the vehicle. Many motorists complained of the way the wreckers would drive and how many times the roads appeared blocked by wreckers. The new policy was to fix this. It started out as something completely new for the sheriff’s office and since many problems have come up. Russel Schoonover with Texas Towing told Commissioners that the policy they created is not the one in place and that items have been changed to the point some smaller companies may be filing bankruptcy. Over the past week, they had met with Captain Hollifield with the Sheriff’s Office who is working to try to iron some things out. He said he also talked to Commissioners on the phone and assumed it would be on the agenda for today but it wasn’t. Currently, he said there are 63 companies on the rotation, one of the largest in the country. Along with that, it went into effect in the middle of a pandemic. One of the issues he told Commissioners is that the way it is now companies from Magnolia on rotation are sent to Cut-and-Shoot to pick up a vehicle and then tow it back to their lot in Magnolia making it difficult for the citizens to recover their vehicle or the property in their vehicle. Charlie Miller with Miller Towing of Willis said since implementation there has been a lot of confusion, a lot of headaches,s and a lot of mess here and there. He thanked Commissioners and some people from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office who he said tried to make it better. Since the implementation owners have sat down with Captain Hollifield and a new zone map was created that went very well and was approved by owners of at least 95% of the companies. This would cut down a lot of the saturation of two companies. He said with 63 companies, 250 wreckers there were 674 rotation spots. He told Commissioners this is not what was intended by them or the companies owners. He said the officers on the scene that are waiting for tow trucks need something different. He said many drivers’ only source of income is towing vehicles. He said it needs to be a level playing field across the board for everybody. He said the changes need to be made, families are hurting.
Talking with several drivers they mention several things. First, is a rotation wrecker is called from Magnolia to pick up a vehicle in New Caney within 20-minutes. That is no possible if you are not speeding. Last week a Harris County Deputy arrested one Montgomery County driver driving on SH 99 over 100mph to get to a rotation call. This was not the only incident. Precinct 5 Constables stopped on on FM 1488 for reckless driving, again trying to make it within the 20 minutes allotted. If they do not make it in 20-minutes the next company in the rotation is called. It could be local or it could be coming from across the county. In several instances, officers could be on the inside shoulder of the freeway with a prisoner or a citizen who has been involved in a crash for 20 to wait on the wrecker then time for it to load. This is also the issue with a crash closing a road. Before wreckers were already on the scene to remove the vehicles and didn’t have to fight traffic to get to the scene. Now the officer waits up to 20 minutes with a road closed and if that wrecker cancels or cannot get through another 20 for another wrecker. Sometimes they are able to get through on a shoulder but over the year’s motorists seem to want to park on the shoulder to see what’s going on not realizing they are blocking an approach not just for wreckers but emergency vehicles. Also over the years officers depended on wreckers on major crash scenes that were in a curve or on the freeway to block lanes of traffic. Now without the wreckers on the scene, additional patrol units are needed to take them off the streets which sometimes could be an hour or up to 5-hours which is normal on a fatal crash investigation.
Houston, Humble, and Harris County remain on the chip system and not rotation. However, they have different rules in place. On a disabled vehicle or a crash, there are only two wreckers allowed on the scene plus one additional to provide traffic control. This rule has been in place for years. Seldom is there a confrontation of the I was here first as the drivers themselves police that so there are no issues. Crashes of disabled vehicles on the freeways are handled by only a handful of companies licensed under Tow and GO, which was implemented years back to stop all the crashes after disabled vehicles remained sometimes for hours or days on the freeway. On the crashes when the officer arrives on for instance a two-vehicle crash. He will have four wreckers on the scene plus one additional. Those wreckers then chip for the wreck.
Talking with a Harris County Deputy who works in the East part of Harris County he said he would hate to lose his wreckers. in his 25-years of service, he said he could not count the number of times his wrecker drivers were his only backup. In East Harris County deputies are far and few between. If an assist the officer was put out another unit could be 15-minutes away. In that time he said he may have 10 wrecker drivers to help him. In addition to accident scenes, he has vehicles on fire and a wrecker driver was able to knock the blaze down with a fire extinguisher enough to put a hook on the door and rip it open pulling the woman out before it went up in flames again.
Liberty County has been on a rotation system for many years. Liberty County is limited to five companies in North County and five companies in South County.