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Should Buffalo lawmakers give Lightning Towing the boot?

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City leaders are taking a hard look at the booting of vehicles and the claimed bad activity of one local company.

Booting refers to the devices put on car wheels to make sure they don't go anywhere. Locally, most of the booting in private parking lots is done by Lightning Towing. There is a major fight about how much they charge to take the boot off and whether the driver gets an itemized receipt.

"I have no proof that I compensated them to remove the boot from my vehicle," said Amanda Lawrence, who was explaining a claimed $150 charge for removing a boot from a wheel of her car in the Pine Harbor Apartments parking lot. Because Lawrence didn't get a receipt, she can't get a refund from Pine Harbor, where she pays to park. 

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Common Council President Darius Pridgen (l) and Councilmember Ulysses Wingo had sharp words for Lightning Towing during Tuesday's meeting.

Tuesday's Council meeting often turned into confrontations between Lightning lawyer Corey Auerbch and a council member, like Darius Pridgen.

"Maybe he might want to talk to his clients because, at the end of the day, I've had more people come to me to say that they couldn't get a receipt from your client. Sir, from your client," Pridgen said. "You're not out there on the street. In all due respect, you're not there. But the people who have called me have said the same thing. And for you to suggest that it did not happen would be to suggest that she's lying. Unfortunately, sir, I don't believe she's lying."

The problem is that the largest apparent supplier of those boots only "generally" issues receipts and those receipts apparently aren't often itemized. Another heated exchange took place between Councilmember Ulysees Wingo and Auerbach.              

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Lightning Towing lawyer Corey Auerbach takes some heat during Tuesday's Common Council meeting.

"What I said is the receipts that I reviewed before this hearing included the dollar amounts for the services that were provided," said Auerbach.

"Okay," Wingo said, "and what services are those?"

"Whatever the service was that was provided to the individuals." said Auerbach.

"What are the services?," Wingo interrupted. "Because you deduce that he got a ticket illegally, but this says nothing to that nature on this receipt."

The situation is complicated not only by unclear rules, but that Lightning works for owners of what aren't commercial parking lots. They are lots for stores and apartment buildings, which are not regulated by the city.

Councilmember Richard Fontana said it is time to update booting rules.

"We say a maximum of $75, or whatever maximum we pick, and if somebody was to have less funds on them, maybe they would be a little more sympathetic, they could show them sympathy," Fontana said. "But it does become a situation where people are bartering in a parking lot to try to get their car back and if they don't have the cash, it's a problem. Also, how do we know the operator doesn't want to buy a cheeseburger on the way home and gets an extra $10."

Pridgen said there will be a new booting ordinance available in early September for debate and eventually a vote.