Concord students, parents upset after cars towed
Several Concord High School students – or perhaps their parents – are out nearly $200 each after Cumberland Farms ordered their cars towed from a vacant lot Friday. Whether they or the school got fair warning is a matter of contention.
Parking around the high school is tight, and students had been using the parking lot of the former Red and Gold convenience store across from the school since the store closed earlier this year. That came to an end Friday when students left school in the afternoon to find their cars gone.
One student thought his car had been stolen and sought out Officer Mark Hassapes, the school’s resource officer, for help, Hassapes said. Jeff Lewis, whose son’s car was towed, said students were given no notice that their cars would be removed.
The small lot wasn’t posted as off-limits for parking until the evening before the cars were towed, several sources said. And the notice, which says “No Parking” but does not say violators would be towed, was handwritten and stuck to the side of the boarded-up store. The words “no parking” were also spray-painted on a couple of places in the lot.
Five cars were towed and one student, who happened to arrive when the tow trucks were there, was allowed to drive his car away, according to an employee at John’s Wrecker Service, which was hired Friday by Cumberland Farms. Cumberland Farms owns the property and had been renting the space to Red and Gold.
Lewis sent an email to a Cumberland Farms official Friday night after paying $195 to get his son’s car from the wrecker company and shared his note with the Monitor.
“While I understand that the property is private and it is certainly within the rights of the property owner to decide at any time to prohibit students from parking on the lot, I am perplexed at why there has been a sudden change in policy, with virtually no notice given to the students at all,” Lewis wrote. He continued, “A little advance notice could go a long way towards being a good neighbor in a small community.”
In an interview this week, Cumberland Farms spokesman Derek Beckwith said the company decided to have the cars towed about a week ago after a tree behind the store fell. “It’s not just that it’s private property,” Beckwith said. “It’s also a safety issue. We don’t want anything to happen to anyone’s car.”
Asked whether students were given advance notice about the towing, Beckwith first said staff in the high school’s main office were asked to relay a warning to students over the intercom before Friday. Lisa Lamb, administrative assistant to Principal Gene Connolly, said that’s not true.
“There was no warning,” Lamb said. They “came in on Friday and said, ‘We are towing the cars.’ They didn’t give us the opportunity to tell students.”
Beckwith then said Hassapes, the school resource officer, was alerted before the towing and agreed to warn students that cars would be removed Friday. “Some people did get notification,” Beckwith added. “In terms of being able to track down all the conversations, I don’t have that information for you.”
Reached later, Hassapes said that he wasn’t warned that the cars would be removed. Hassapes said he discovered cars were being towed only after the student reported that his car was missing Friday. “We had no notice that (Cumberland Farms) was towing cars,” he said.
Beckwith did not return another call seeking clarification.
A spokesman at John’s Wrecker Service, who declined to give his name, said he was contacted Friday morning about 8:30 by a Cumberland Farms representative seeking to have the cars towed. He said he didn’t agree to tow the cars until he received the request in writing and on the company’s letterhead.
He also asked whether the property had been properly posted as private, he said. The spokesman said the Cumberland Farms representative told him the property had been posted the night before. The $195 charge is standard for a “no trespassing” tow, he said.
“We don’t patrol for this type of situation,” he said. “We were hired to do a job.”
Lewis said he talked yesterday with the Cumberland Farms spokeswoman he had contacted Friday. “She was generally apologetic,” he said. “She said it could have been handled differently, but that they were well within their right to have the cars towed.”
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)