DESTIN — A towing company owner is defending his business after a Facebook post went viral over the weekend alleging unfair towing practices at a shopping center parking lot.
Tammy Bryan Pugh, who lives in Gulf Breeze, made a post on her personal Facebook page Sunday night detailing what she said was a bad experience with a Destin towing company on Saturday night.
Pugh said she and her husband parked in a lot that wasn’t adequately marked with no parking signs, and were treated rudely by employees after their truck was towed.
“In my mind, this is (a) corrupt business and should not be allowed,” Pugh wrote of Destin Towing, the business that towed her car. “It is a trap.”
The post went viral and the owner of the towing company is now defending himself after saying he’s received death threats over the post.
“None of it is true,” Destin Towing owner Scott Leach said. “Everything that we’ve done, everything that we do, the service that we provide for that plaza is strictly within the law.
“I just got a phone call from some guy saying he’s going to burn my business down with us inside it because his vehicle got towed,” he added.
According to Pugh’s post, which she shared with the Daily News, she and her husband went to dinner at AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar on Destin Harbor on Saturday night and decided to park at the Palmetto Plaza shopping center. They came back to find their truck had been towed away.
She said she didn’t see "no parking” signs when they parked, but did see other vehicles in the lot, including a black Ford F-150 pickup truck
After discovering their vehicle was gone, Pugh's husband found a sign on the building and called the number for Destin Towing, which confirmed their truck had been towed to the business's parking lot. The couple had to pay $125 in cash to get their truck back.
After the ordeal, Pugh slammed the business on Facebook, saying the towing company’s practices were shady, the company’s employees were rude and the driver of the black Ford F-150 truck was an employee hired by the business to sit in the lot and catch people parking there illegally.
“These folks are making a killing, and the guy driving the nice F-150 is the piece of (expletive) that keeps the cycle going,” the woman wrote. “Please ... don’t park in this parking lot.”
The post has been shared more thanr 1,600 times since July 15 and has almost 800 comments, with many people chiming in to say they also have been towed from the lot and viewed the company’s practices as unfair.
But Leach said that he’s operating his business legally and the Palmetto Plaza parking lot is private property. He said he has a towing contract with Palmetto Plaza's property owner and the management company that controls it. He would not provide the Daily News with a name or phone number of the property owner to verify that information.
He also denied that the person driving the black F-150 was an employee of the towing company, saying he believed it was an Uber driver waiting for his or her next fare.
“They (Palmetto Plaza management) have contracted us to remove any vehicles on their property after 9 p.m. every day of the week that does not have a parking pass issued to them by a store owner or any of the units there,” Leach said.
He said there are seven or eight “no parking” signs on the property. A Daily News reporter who went to the parking lot found six signs, most of them up against the building near the storefronts.
Leach said he tows, on average, up to eight cars a night.
Some of the business owners in the plaza say they're fed up with the parking and towing situation.
David Baxter owns One Feather Native American Jewelry and Art, which leases one of the storefronts in Palmetto Plaza. He said he feels bad that people are towed from there at night, but plaza management was forced to start towing people.
“From what I understand, the reason that all this started is because all of those people would park at our place, and you would not believe how they would leave our parking lot,” he said. “Even when we’ve had garbage cans there, it doesn’t matter. They’ll leave something right next to the garbage can instead of putting it there.”
Still, Baxter said he is “heartbroken” when well-meaning people, especially families with children and strollers, are towed.
“I hate it at night when nobody’s here because there really is limited parking on this end of Destin, and I do understand why a lot of people don’t want to pay $10 to park at the Emerald Grande, especially when the city parking is so much less (expensive)," he said. "But we tell people when we see them parking in our lot at night if we’re leaving or whatever, we’ll tell them around 8 p.m. they’re going to tow them away.”
The post adds a new wrinkle to the debate about parking problems in Destin, particularly in the Harbor District where tourist traffic has ballooned and parking has gotten scarcer and more expensive.
HarborWalk Village announced in June that it would charge people $10 per car to park in its lot. The city of Destin also had made its Marler Street, Zerbe Street and Community Center parking lots pay-to-park in the past year.
AJ’s has a pay-to-park lot across the street from the restaurant, next to the Palmetto Plaza. The Marler Street lot is a block away.
But wherever people decide to park, Baxter said he just hopes everyone can come to a peaceful resolution.
“I really don’t know what the solution is,” he said. “I just lease a store here, and it seems like the majority of the people that lease places here, they feel the same way that I do.”
Destin Log reporter Sheri Kotzum contributed to this report.