By BRETT DAVIS
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — The Washington state Attorney General’s Office is celebrating some justice for a former sailor whose automobile was sold while he was serving overseas.
According to the attorney general’s office, Bethel Garage in Port Orchard, Washington lawfully towed the sailor’s car in December 2018 when he was deployed outside of Washington state. The towing company did not check to determine if the car’s owner was a service member and later sold the car at auction without the sailor’s knowledge.
“The law is clear – towing companies have an obligation to determine whether a car belongs to a member of the military,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Monday in announcing a court order requiring Bethel Garage to repay a former Navy sailor for unlawfully selling his car, according to a press release. “When our service men and women are deployed away from home and family, they should not need to worry whether their possessions are safe. There are specific laws that protect our service members and I will enforce them.”
Bethel Garage was ordered by Kitsap County Superior Court to return money from the sale of the car to the sailor, as well as an additional $2,000 to compensate him for a year spent without a vehicle.
The towing company has complied with the order and has updated its policies to screen for military members’ vehicles before putting them up for sale.
The court order was part of the overall “Military and Veterans Initiative” from Mr. Ferguson, who this year sent a letter to every licensed tow truck operator in the state, reminding them of their legal obligation to service members.
“Unfortunately, some tow truck operators do not comply with the law,” the letter states. “My goal is not to file lawsuits. My goal is to ensure that servicemembers’ rights are protected; a goal I am sure you share.”
The case follows a May 2020 court ruling by a Pierce County judge which found a Tacoma-based towing company had also illegally sold service members’ vehicles at auction. That case was based on evidence from the attorney general’s office that Burns Towing unlawfully sold as many as 35 service members’ vehicles while they were on active duty.