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Retrieving stolen cars in Nevada means paying extra to get them back

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — Edward Milam and his wife, Tenille, already have it tough. They have five kids to support with their minimum wage jobs.

And, given their poverty, the Arizona couple figured things couldn’t get any worse when somebody stole their car June 3 from their front yard in Bullhead City, Ariz.

They were wrong.

After the car was recovered in Nevada that night, the Milams were told they would have to pay $165 in towing and impound fees to get it back from a tow yard.

They didn’t have the money, and the car has sat in a Cal-Nev-Ari tow yard just south of Searchlight ever since. Last week, they were told the bill had accrued to $1,575.

“I figured being a victim, they would just give it back, not charge me for it,” Edward Milam said.

Advocates for crime victims in Nevada say the Milams are not alone in having to pay to retrieve their stolen vehicles. A victim of car theft has to pay private towing companies both towing and impound fees to retrieve the vehicle, they said.

Sometimes victims face accrual fees as well.

Several times a week, we get phone calls from individuals who have to pay to get their cars out of the tow yard, said Barbara Schell, director of the Victim Witness Program with the Clark County district attorney’s office.

“We actually had one person who went to an auction and bought a new car because it was cheaper than paying for all the charges,” Schell said.

In many cases, insurance will reimburse the costs for the towing and impound. But for those who have just minimum liability insurance, like the Milams, victims of theft can find themselves out of luck.

“We are basically revictimizing the victim,” said Clark County prosecutor Dave Barker.

An individual who answered the phone at A1 Towing in Cal-Nev-Ari, where the Milam’s car is stored, declined comment. The Nevada Transportation Services Authority, which regulates tow yards in Nevada, has negotiated a potential settlement between the tow yard and the Milams.

The tow yard offered the vehicle to the Milams if they paid a $250 fee.

“I don’t have $250,” Milam said. “We are broke.”

“It makes me mad,” Tenille Milam said. “No one should have to pay to get their stuff back.”

Vickie Dillon, a victims advocate for the U.S. attorney’s office, said she understands that private tow companies have expenses to meet. But she said there needs to be a compromise when it comes to dealing with victims of crime.

Dillon said it’s time for the state to protect people from paying to get their stolen cars back.

“We need to catch the ear of a legislator to say this is not right,” Dillon said. “There has got to be a better solution.”