When Stuart Kershner, a Silver Spring stockbroker and his 3-year-old son returned to the Silver Spring Metro stop Monday from Fourth of July festivities on the Mall they had an unexpected holiday finale. Their car--and perhaps as many as 65 others--had been towed from a lot opposite the Silver Spring station and was being held for $40 ransom. Days later, the towing spree is still causing fireworks.
Kershner, who ended up walking part of the way home in the rain with his son on his shoulders, wryly observes that a local towing company has latched on to "a different way of celebrating our nation's birthday," in a rite that nets it thousands of dollars.
Kershner's sister thinks it's an outrage. The towing-service owner calls it business as usual and says the towing is simply a response to the request of the lot owners. A parking lot security guard notes cars are nabbed during sports events or holidays--whenever there's a big public event downtown. And Giant Food calls the towing "excessive" and says it's a public relations fiasco.
Monday evening, Kershner, 33, took his son Hudson to the Silver Spring Metro station en route to the Washington Monument grounds. When he found a county lot was full, he tried a private lot, which also was full. At 8:45 p.m., Kershner said, "we pulled into basically the only alternative." It was the lot behind Blair Park shopping center at Colesville Road and East-West Highway, behind Giant Food.
High's was the only store open, Kershner recalls, (Giant closed at 8 that evening) and "I purposely pulled a long way from High's."
He says he ignored signs posted around the lot reading, "No Metro Parking" and "2 hour customer parking--violators will be towed away at owners risk and expense."
Kershner's sister, Mary Beth Cox, said, "The signs are clearly posted . . . but don't you think it would be nice to be patriotic and not tow cars on July 4th?"
When Kershner and his son returned to the lot at 10:15--skipping the fireworks' finale because it was past Hudson's bedtime--"I walked to the car about two blocks from Metro in the light rain with my son on my shoulders. I saw a towing truck and realized my car was gone."
Kershner says he saw four cars towed while he was standing there. Mark Reynolds, supervisor of K-9 Sentries, which patrols the area, said about 65 cars were towed. Bill Brown, owner of Silver Spring Towing, which towed Kershner's car, said his firm alone towed 25.
Kershner said he was $5 short of the $40 cash needed to retrieve his car. So he had to leave it at the towing firm's lot overnight, which cost him an extra $10 fee.
"We have this problem every year," Reynolds says. "The tow truck will pull one car out of a space and another pulls right in. We warn them and they park there anyway. It happens during the Cherry Blossom Festival, during the Redskins parade, anytime there's a big thing going on downtown."
Ed Tullar of Tower Construction, which manages the lot, blames Metro for the problem. "They built a Metro station and forgot to build a parking lot."
Meanwhile, Giant Food is unhappy about what it sees as negative public relations due to the towing. "It seems they are towing away an excessive amount of cars," property manager James Southall said. "It's hurting us. People see the big Giant sign and associate towing with us."
Says Kershner, "Anybody that tows cars on the Fourth of July has it all locked up--I just figure somebody clipped me for $50." CAPTION: Picture 1, Tow. By Craig Herndon--The Washington Post; Picture 2, Stuart Kershner, his son and the car that was towed: "I just figure somebody clipped me for $50." By Joel Richardson--The Washington Post