The state's attorney in Prince George's Country, Arthur A. Marshall, is on a collision course with the county council over its new law to regulate two truck operators.
Marshall says the legislation - which will go into effect March 1 - is contrary to state law.
County council officials say that the new county law was designed to stop some of the abuses of towing. Observers note that some two truck operators have been cruising through apartment parking lots at night and towing cars away. The unwitting car owners the next morning then must pay sometimes as much as $55 in towing charges to get their cars back, said Rodney Brewer, an investigator for the state's attorney's office. Brewer added that some tow truck operators haul away as many as 15 cars a night.
The new law requires that the tow truck operators get the written permission of a resident or property manager of the apartment complex before towing a car off the property. County council officials say that up to now tow truck operators have been virtually without regulation and have been allowed to tow "illegally parked" cars under vague regulations.
But state's attorney Marshall maintains that the new county law will improperty allow alocal tow truckk operators to remove legally parked cars without first notifying the car owner.
He said he will prosecute anyone who tows legally parked cars - even if the towing firm acts within the county law guidelines.
Marshall's interpretation of the state law is that tow truck operators do not have the right to tow legally parked cars.
Lionell M. Lockhart, legislative officer for the county council, charged that Marshall has not read the Maryland transportation laws correctly and that the state's attorney's interpretation is "narrow."
"I'm surprised the county state's attorney is bending over backwards to find a crime," said Lockhart.
County Council Administration Kenneth V. Duncan said he plans to meet with Marshall to see if "we can get an understanding of what the new law does and doesn't do."
A controversy over towing has been brewing in Prince George's County for several years, according to investigation Brewer, who added that nearly 13,000 cars were towed last year.
"Some of those cars were legitimately parked and some illegal . . . but who knows late at night? The police have to take the word of the tow-truck driver," said Brewer.
Brewer said the new law passed by the county council "cuts my hands off," because the regulation requiring written permission before towing is not strong enough.
Glen T. Lashley, a spokesman for the American Automobile Association, said, "AAA is very concerned about the towing rip-offs that are occuring in Prince George's County."
According to Lashley only 30 per cent of all towing done in 1976 was requested by county police because of violations.
County council officials said that, for the most part, tow truck operators have been able to haul away cars and have only been required to give county police notice within 24 hours that the cars have been moved.