KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It was already a bad day for Tom McKown.
"I got ready to hit my exit and I hit some black ice," said McKown of Smithville, Mo. It sent him across three lanes of I-435 and into the path of an oncoming car.
Then Mckown's bad day got even worse.
"I feel like it was the police department that put me in this position," McKown said.
At first he said the Kansas City police officer was helpful, asking McKown if he needed medical attention and who he wanted to tow his car.
McKown requested a tow company that would take his car directly to his Smithville home. But before that tow showed up, a different tow truck, Andy's Tow, stopped at the scene.
"He walked by my car and talked to the officer," recalled McKown. "They were back there a little while and they both come up and they both said they needed to get my car off the highway right away."
McKown said the police officer asked him if he would let Andy's Tow haul away his car. Thinking he had no choice, McKown agreed but asked about the tow he'd already ordered, which was just minutes away.
"The police officer said `we can cancel that.' "
Tow driver Andy Benedict towed McKown's car a few blocks away then handed McKown's vehicle to another tow company Fladung who then towed it to North Star Auto. North Star is a favorite dropping off point for tow companies that charge high prices, according to an expert.
McKown was charged $776 by Fladung, more than triple what he would have paid if police had allowed him to use the tow company he'd requested.
Although both Andy's Tow and Fladung insist they did nothing wrong , what happened to McKown should never have happened.
In 2010, Kansas City passed a law to stop rogue companies from racing to wrecks then charging outrageous prices for the tow. Tow truck drivers who break the law are supposed to be ticketed by police.
In fact a few weeks before McKown's accident, police cited the same tow truck driver Andy Benedict of Andy's Tow for showing up at another wreck. That case heads to court next month.
Kansas City Tow Lot Director Nate Pare said wreck-running keeps happening in Kansas City because police allow it.
"I think by the ordinance it's very clear that's not an acceptable act, but I think inside the police department they ask their officers to use their discretion," Pare said.
We tried repeatedly to ask Kansas City Police about this. When police stopped returning our calls, we showed up at a Police Commissioners meeting. Police Spokesman Captain Tye Grant would only talk to us off camera. He said it's never OK for a police officer to ignore the law. Right before our story deadline, police contacted FOX 4 again, saying they looked into McKown's case and feel comfortable the officer made a good decision by letting Andy's Tow clear the scene quickly.
But it's not about just one complaint, Pare said it happens all the time.
"I get those complaints weekly," he said.
In fact, here's another one.
" I was right under Bartle Hall on the exit ramp under I-70," said Samantha Stultz who was hit by another car on her way to work in Kansas City.
Stultz called 911, but even before police arrived a tow truck was on the scene from Auto Tow and Recovery.
"He said he heard it on his scanner and came right over," she said.
That's against the law and the tow truck driver should have been ticketed. But instead of ticketing the driver, the police officer encouraged Stultz to use him.
"Alright we need to get this space cleared out as quickly as possible," Stultz recalled the officer telling her. "He's going to go ahead and tow your truck is that OK with you? "
She asked the officer whether she should call her insurance company first since she had towing coverage. But Stultz said the officer told her it would not matter either way. It would be the same cost.
Actually it did matter. What would have been a free tow under her insurance ended up costing $400 in towing and storage fees.
Stultz said she felt misled by police.
"I feel you are taught from an early age that you can always trust a police officer," Stultz said.
Now she's not sure who to trust.
Auto Tow and Recovery tells us it fired the driver not long after Stultz' wreck for violating company policy. Police tell us that anyone who feels a police officer didn't follow the law at an accident scene, should report the officer to the police department.
Additionally, Captain Grant said the Kansas City Police Department strongly supports the tow ordinance and if an officer isn't following the ordinance the police would like to know about it.
How to protect yourself from being scammed by a tow truck company:
- Have the name and number of a tow truck company you trust and use it.
- Insist police order a city tow. The maximum charge is $240.
- Refuse to use any tow truck driver that pulled up to the scene without being summoned. They are already breaking the law.