Towing lawsuit

Three workers from Big Bear Towing and Repair and Flat Creek Towing climb back to the road after surveying the scene of a wrecked tractor-trailer above Wilson in December 2016. The two companies, which have since been acquired by Ron’s Towing, are defendants in a lawsuit alleging unfair business practices.

A Montana man is suing Flat Creek and Big Bear Towing for “unfair and deceptive business practices, fraud and breach of contract” over an experience he had with them in 2017.

William “Bill” Russell filed the lawsuit last month in Teton County District Court. In court documents, he claims he was treated unfairly when his car broke down Jan. 13, 2017, on Teton Pass.

The civil complaint has sparked a dispute over who the correct defendant is, since Big Bear Towing and Repair closed permanently last year.

According to the Wyoming Secretary of State’s website, Big Bear Towing and Repair, LLC became inactive in December 2020. Ron’s Towing, now the only towing company in Teton County, was served with the civil papers in late January because it “acquired the assets” from Flat Creek and Big Bear, according to owner Ron Reaves.

But Reaves is rejecting the civil summons, saying he has nothing to do with the lawsuit.

The matter will likely have to be resolved in court, though according to the case file in the 9th Judicial District, such arguments have not yet been filed.

Russell names Big Bear in the lawsuit but also mentions Flat Creek Towing and “Does,” which leaves the option to name additional defendants as the case proceeds.

Russell, the plaintiff, filed the complaint pro se, which means he is representing himself without a lawyer at this stage. In the lawsuit, he describes driving his GMC truck and towing his Volvo station wagon, which had a radiator leak causing it to lose coolant. His pickup truck stopped accelerating on his way up Teton Pass.

“Plaintiff had no option other than to pull his GMC to the side of the only road traversing said pass, where thence, it altogether quit running and ultimately would not restart,” his complaint states.

Russell made sure he hadn’t run out of gas before calling a towing service.

“Knowing at this time he, Russell, only had approximately three to four hundred dollars on him; he figured he should at least be able to afford any reasonable tow charges incurred in getting his GMC towed off the pass and hauled back down to a Jackson repair shop,” he writes in the lawsuit.

Russell decided that if he could get his Volvo filled with coolant he could drive it and only have his truck towed.

When he called the towing company he said he first asked if they were a AAA Roadside Assistance provider.

“Russell was informed by the person answering his call that they were and did accept AAA Roadside insurance coverage,” he wrote in the complaint.

Russell asked the towing company to send a tow truck driver to his location and for the driver to bring coolant. Russell said they agreed.

The driver brought “stop leak” additive but didn’t bring engine coolant, Russell claims, forcing him to have both vehicles towed.

The towing company employee told Russell his truck likely ran out of gas on the steep incline, the lawsuit claims, so Russell suggested they get him some gas so he could be on his way.

The driver said he didn’t have any fuel on his tow truck, and needed to proceed with towing the cars to Jackson.

Once down in town, Russell said he was asked to sign a “blank invoice” to confirm towing services were provided. After asking if he could pay cash the driver called the company owner and then informed Russell the bill was $900, even though he had AAA.

In the suit, he said he tried to dispute the charge and was told the price was firm, so he offered his $400 cash as partial payment. But the employees said he would need to leave for the night and return the next day with the full $900.

In the complaint, Russell said his cell phone died and the towing company wouldn’t let him use their phone, so he walked to a gas station and called police from there so he could make a report of the dispute.

“Russell then asked the cops to facilitate him in just sleeping in his Volvo until morning on Defendant(s) property,” the lawsuit said. “The officers said they could not do that and offered to take Russell to a shelter for the night.”

Russell said “he was not going to take charity” by going to a shelter and said he was either going to sleep in his impounded Volvo or they could arrest him. Russell was taken to jail, and the next day he hitchhiked back to Kalispell, Montana.

A week later Russell said he called to let the towing company know he’d be by to get his belongings from his Volvo, which included various tools and two guns. He got there on a Saturday and said he was told he could only retrieve his things during weekdays.

“A couple weeks later he went back to Jackson during normal business hours/days to get his belongings,” the complaint states. “When he got to his vehicles he found them both unlocked/unsecured and when he looked inside the Volvo, he found that the two rifles and all his tools had been taken and were missing from the Volvo.”

He said when asked about his things, the driver “shrugged his shoulders.”

“Defendants have since remained in possession of the truck, dolly, Volvo and any other possessions in them,” the lawsuit states. “The rifles and tools were never returned.”

Russell said between his car and the items in them he’s out over $10,000. The amount of damages Russell is seeking isn’t listed in the complaint.

A jury trial was requested.

Contact Emily Mieure at 732-7066 or courts@jhnewsandguide.com.

Emily Mieure covers criminal justice and emergency news. She also leads the News&Guide’s investigative efforts. She has reported for WDRB TV in Louisville, Ky., WFIE TV in Evansville, Ind., and WEIU TV in Charleston, Ill.

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