- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

Several truckers who came to Capitol Hill this week to ask lawmakers for relief on gasoline prices got a real Washington-insider experience Wednesday: Their vehicles were impounded, and the towing company demanded a $2,000 fee for their return.

“We were invited down to talk to congressman and legislators about our problems, and now we have no way to get there, and we have to pay $2,000 for our trouble,” said trucker Steve Link, describing his and two other drivers’ Capraesque story.

Mr. Link, who drove roughly 700 miles from Michigan, said the truckers stepped outside the Comfort Inn, at 6205 Annapolis Road in Landover Hills, at about 8:30 a.m. to find two trailers and a tractor-trailer missing from a nearby parking lot.

They had come to Washington as members of Truckers and Citizens United (TACU), a national organization of truck drivers and owner-operators, which staged a 20-truck convoy to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to protest high fuel prices and to ask lawmakers to rein in speculators and pursue domestic sources of oil. They were supposed to return to the Hill on Wednesday and Thursday for further discussions with lawmakers.

U.S. Capitol Police at first told the truckers that their license-plate numbers did not match any submitted overnight by a towing company.

“When we talked to the police, they said that it was not impounded, so we had reason to believe it was stolen,” said TACU spokeswoman Debbie Zylvitis, who owns one of the impounded vehicles with her husband, Dennis. It was only on Wednesday afternoon that Mrs. Zylvitis received a phone call from Henry Towing Inc. of Hyattsville to tell her the towing company had the vehicles.

Mrs. Zylvitis said a Comfort Inn employee had told the truckers that it would be OK to park their equipment at the Capitol Plaza Shopping Center near the motel.

However, she acknowledged that they had failed to see a no-parking sign, which she described as small, “barely legible” and at the far end of the parking lot.

A Henry Towing employee said that the truckers had until midnight to pay the fine, and that it was non-negotiable. Mrs. Zylvitis said the company warned that their equipment would be sold at auction if they failed to meet the deadline.

The setback was just one several for the truckers during the visit. More than 200 drivers had been expected to participate in the convoy, but fewer than 20 turned up. Organizers blamed the low turnout on the high cost of driving to Washington.

Once in the capital, the protesters found lawmakers and the news media totally preoccupied by the federal government’s efforts to help save the country’s financial markets.

“The sad thing about this is that we were invited to come down to D.C. from all over the country.

“Some guys drove for 10 to 15 hours straight just to be a part of this, and now a few of them can’t even come to see what we’ve accomplished,” said TACU organizer Leon Martin.

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