- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

Kevin Altizer slides a 3-foot-long rod between the window and door frame of a Chevrolet Suburban, pops the lock and opens the door.

The sport utility vehicle, parked in a Manassas apartment complex lot, sounds its alarm and flashes its lights to protest the intrusion.

Mr. Altizer glances over his shoulder at the apartments but no one appears to notice the commotion. He quickly opens the SUV door, reaches in and loops the seat belt through the steering wheel so that the front wheels do not swerve when the truck is in tow.

Then he gets back into his tow truck and drives away, with the dark-blue Suburban securely attached.

“Ideally, you want to get a vehicle and get away with it,” said Mr. Altizer, a stout 34-year-old with a shaved head and a goatee.

Score one for Mr. Altizer and Henry’s Wrecker Service, the Sterling, Va.-based towing company notorious for nonconsent tows.

Mr. Altizer is a Manassas-based driver in the company’s parking enforcement division. From about 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. he drives through privately owned apartment and industrial complex parking lots, looking for scofflaws.

The property owners hire Henry’s to enforce their parking regulations. Henry’s makes a buck, and drivers make a commission, by snagging cars that are double-parked, parked in fire lanes, parked in spots temporarily marked no parking or parked without the proper permit.

It’s not a happy occasion for the owners.

“You look at the place where your car was. It’s gone. It feels like theft,” said Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“To have someone who’s not the owner touch it, feels like a violation. And there’s no company out there who does more than Henry’s,” Mr. Anderson said.

“You feel victimized,” said Jawid Jawadi, manager of Gateway Auto Repair, which is situated in one of the Prince William County industrial parks where Henry’s has a contract.

Mr. Jawadi and his neighbors scramble to move cars from questionable spots when they see a Henry’s truck coming on a Monday night. An employee of OK Auto Center, barely gets into a car before Mr. Altizer slides the tow mechanism in place.

“He was doing his job,” Karim Marzyie, OK’s manager, said with a shrug of resignation.

Mr. Altizer doesn’t demand any money from Mr. Marzyie. If he had gotten the car in the air, a $25 “drop fee” would be required. Off the property and it’s $85. Into the lot and, depending on the time of day, it’s $110.

“Usually they’re not very happy,” Mr. Altizer said of the owners.

Mr. Altizer knew the feeling firsthand well before he started working at Henry’s. His car was towed three times by the company while he was a Fairfax Country employee. He decided that, rather than fight the company, he would join it.

“It has its advantages,” he said of the job.

On La Paz Street in Prince William County, Mr. Altizer cruises around a corner and sees a car double-parked, flashers flashing. It was there about 15 minutes earlier when Mr. Altizer drove by on his way to the auto shops.

He takes a photo of the car to document that it was illegally parked. Then he backs up the tow truck, lowers the towing apparatus and slides it under the front of the vehicle. In about 30 seconds the car is in the air. In about 35 seconds the owner is running out of an apartment.

A quiet discussion follows, then $25 is handed over to Mr. Altizer. The car is dropped. The owner does not want to discuss the incident further.

Just down the road, a Ford pickup truck is running. Mr. Altizer takes his photo, backs up to the vehicle and sets the towing apparatus in motion. Then he walks up to the driver-side door, opens it and turns the truck off.

And he’s gone.

“One of the more difficult things to get is one that’s running,” Mr. Altizer said with a smile. The pickup ends up back at Henry’s impound lot.

Between 8 p.m. and midnight, a small slice of his shift, Mr. Altizer will line up five vehicles and get three back to Henry’s impound lot. On an average night, he estimates that he will get 10 to 12 cars, each documented with a photo, paperwork and notification to the police.

Overall, Henry’s has 13 locations in the region, and almost 290 trucks for nonconsent tows, roadside breakdowns and other hauls, according to the company.

That’s a lot of tows and a lot of potentially unhappy people. Mr. Altizer figures that in the year he has worked for the company, he alone has towed more than 1,000 vehicles.

“Occasionally I do feel bad. But I’m just doing my job,” he said.

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