The Santa Barbara Fire and Police Commission on Thursday reinstated Smitty’s Towing to the public safety tow company rotation, a year after it was suspended for mistakenly destroying a minivan that was evidence in a vehicular manslaughter case.
The Santa Barbara police and fire departments have a list of licensed, private companies they call to tow vehicles that block private driveways, are parked on private property, have broken down, are immobilized after an accident, or have been stolen or appear to be abandoned. Smitty’s was one of the six companies, but lost its standing last year in the aftermath of a collision that killed a Montecito woman who was walking to her bus stop on Coast Village Road.
Florinda Flores, 47, died May 27, 2010, when she was struck by a minivan driven by Tyler Fourmy, 17, of Santa Barbara. Fourmy, now 19, pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter charges last month and was sentenced to 45 days in Santa Barbara County Juvenile Hall and 400 hours of community service.
Fourmy’s van, a 1995 Toyota Previa, was towed from the scene and investigated by police. A few months later, however, police Officer Mark Hunt returned to the Smitty’s lot in Goleta to take additional pictures but discovered the vehicle was missing. Officials say the van was mistakenly sold to a company in Ventura, where it was destroyed.
Commissioner Pat Lennon has told Noozhawk the van was destroyed as a result of an apparent miscommunication. As impounded evidence, the vehicle was being stored in an area that was more protected from the weather. According to Lennon, at some point Smitty’s was told the van no longer needed to be in the protected area but it was sold by mistake and removed from the facility altogether.
Smitty’s was suspended from the city rotation at a November 2010 meeting of the Fire and Police Commission.
On Thursday, Smitty’s officials made a lengthy presentation to demonstrate to the commissioners that the company was in compliance with city policies and had improved its performance.
Smitty’s owner Greg Voight said the company now has additional yard space for impounded evidence vehicles and has served its one-year suspension without violations or complaints.
“We’ve done nothing but improve the company,” he said.
The company’s attorney, Cristi Michelon, said Smitty’s has “undertaken quite a stringent look” at how it does business, and has even produced documents and forms that are now used by other local towing companies.
Fire Chief Andrew DiMizio noted that his department often utilizes Smitty’s Towing because it has equipment that other companies don’t.
Commissioners struggled to come to a consensus with a few 2-2 votes, but eventually voted 3-1 to reinstate the company.
Commissioner Jennifer Christensen voted against the motion, saying, “I don’t know if (the report) truly means Smitty’s is compliant.” She said she wanted the company to go through an application process instead of merely being reinstated, so there would be more scrutiny and competition.
The commission also voted to open a seventh spot to give another local towing company the chance at a city contract.
The reinstatement does not close the books on Smitty’s involvement in the Fourmy case as the company has been named in a civil lawsuit related to the criminal case.
Flores’ family has filed a wrongful death civil suit against Fourmy and his parents, Susan Granziera and Patrick Fourmy. The lawsuit alleges that Fourmy was negligent and that his parents were negligent for entrusting an “unfit driver” with a motor vehicle in “defective condition.”
The Fourmy family has filed cross-complaints against Smitty’s Towing, claiming that the company should pay if any judgment or settlement is issued against them. They allege that Smitty’s breached its contract with the city of Santa Barbara because it was “not to sell, dispose of, discard, destroy, release or otherwise part with the possession, control or custody of the Toyota Previa until or unless instructed by the city of Santa Barbara.”
Since the van was destroyed, Fourmy claims he was deprived of his ability to establish an element of his defense. In court documents, he argues that the “defective mechanical condition,” including steering and braking systems, existed at the time of the collision and “caused or contributed to the occurrence of the incident.”
Fourmy’s parents claim the opposite: Without the vehicle, which was registered in Patrick Fourmy’s name, they cannot defend their position that the van was in working condition. The parents allege that, without the van, the couple can’t defend their position that “no defective condition in any mechanical system of the Toyota Previa existed and that no mechanical condition of the Toyota Previa caused or contributed to the occurrence of the accident.”
Michelon filed a response denying every allegation and asking the court to compensate Smitty’s for attorney’s fees and other related costs.
Hunt has said that the police traffic investigation team did conduct a mechanical inspection of the van, including braking, steering and throttle issues. The collision reconstruction team worked to determine the speed of the vehicle and other details of the crash, which was helped by security camera footage from Bank of America at 1096 Coast Village Road, the building into which the van crashed after striking Flores and hurling her into Butterfly Lane.
The Fourmys are also involved in a civil suit with Mercury Insurance regarding coverage at the time of the crash.