Lt. Col. returns from duty in Africa to find car towed, sold 

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Brittany Wallman  

Published January 16, 2015


When Alexzandria Kelly departed for active military duty in the Horn of Africa last year, she left her "pet" at home: A 1972 AMC Gremlin, a classic car her father bequeathed her when he died.

The Gremlin was in running condition, carried the proper license plate and vehicle registration, and bore the neighborhood association resident parking sticker. It was resting in a guest parking spot.

Then one day it disappeared.

While U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Kelly was deployed on the Somali peninsula as a military police officer, the Gremlin's tires had slowly deflated.

And on March 27 last year, the parking monitors for the homeowners association at Kelly's Margate townhouse complex noticed the flat tires. They called in the tow trucks. West Way Towing hooked it and hauled it off.

By the time Kelly returned in August to resume life in Broward County, West Way had sold her Gremlin at auction as junk, for $525.

Kelly was "in utter shock," her federal lawsuit says. She's suing West Way, alleging the company didn't abide by federal law protecting on-duty military members from, among other things, losing their cars or homes while they're serving the country.

The Service Members Civil Relief Act requires a court order to enforce a lien on service members during active duty and for 90 days after, her attorney, Robert Murphy, said in his suit.

Kelly, a nurse, has served as a reserve officer for 26 years, repeatedly called into duty in Afghanistan and most recently Africa.

She's seeking unspecified damages for "mental pain and shock, suffering, aggravation, humiliation and embarrassment together with the loss of the Gremlin," the lawsuit says.

West Way owner Craig Goldstein said he feels "horrible about what happened." He called Kelly's attorney and offered to turn over the $525, but Murphy made it clear that wouldn't settle it. Kelly wants a jury trial.

Goldstein said he's a military supporter who spent $10,000 painting "Salute Our Troops" onto a tow truck, and never charges service members for tows.

"I am talking from my heart," said Goldstein, "... I would never take a dollar from them. They're giving us our freedom."

He said he knew nothing about the federal law and didn't check a U.S. Department of Defense database before selling the car at auction. But he wishes he had.

"My heart feels for her," Goldstein said. "Believe me. ... We did not know who she was."

Kelly's lawsuit says she informed the Townhomes of Oriole Homeowners Association, managed by Ambassador Community Management, that she would be away for several months. She asked that her mail be sent to a post office box so she would receive it, but mail regarding the tow liens was sent to her townhouse instead. The association and management company are not being sued.

Murphy acknowledged that even a brand new Gremlin "was not a beautiful car." Still, he said "there's a huge market for them" by collectors.

This one had sentimental value, too.

The car had been in her family for decades, the lawsuit says, "and was a tangible link to her late father, a decorated Korean War veteran." And she regularly referred to it in conversation as her "pet," the lawsuit says.

Murphy, a U.S. Army veteran and commercial litigator, said in cities with military bases, like Jacksonville or Pensacola, business owners are more cognizant of the federal law protecting on-duty personnel.

But tow companies here may be unaware of it.

"This is not the only case that's been filed against a towing company in the country," Murphy said, "and they don't do the minimum that's required, which is basically ask for information from the military."