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Everything we know about that viral tow truck video as police launch investigation

a yellow tow truck attempts to tow a silver sedan
A video posted to Reddit showed a Specialty Tow truck trying to take an occupied car from a travel lane in downtown San Francisco on Tuesday. | Source: Reddit user storyinmemo

Police are investigating after a viral video showed a tow truck trying to tow an occupied car in downtown San Francisco, authorities said Thursday.

Harry, the driver of the vehicle who declined to give his last name due to fear of retribution, told The Standard that he and his wife, Joanne, were running errands late Tuesday morning when they noticed a yellow Specialty Towing truck in front of their 2017 Toyota Corolla trying to back up toward them. 

After backing away and getting enough room—thanks to a quick-thinking car behind them—Harry managed to accelerate around the tow truck and speed away along Montgomery Street.

“I was going to just go to the office real quick, about, like, two or three blocks away from where I was on Bush,” Harry said. “But I decided to go straight home, because I didn't want to stop just in case the tow truck does something else, right?"

A video posted to Reddit shows a tow truck trying to illegally tow a car at Montgomery and Bush streets on Tuesday. | Source: Courtesy u/storyinmemo on Reddit

The San Francisco Police Department confirmed on Thursday that it took a police report.

"No injuries were reported, and no arrest has been made at this time," the department said in a statement. "This incident is an open and active investigation."

The Standard reached out to Redwood City-based tow truck company Specialty Towing. A dispatcher who declined to give her full name said Tuesday that she was not aware of the incident. The dispatcher also claimed the company the tow truck belonged to was a different company than one of a similar name whose owners are suspected of criminal activity

The City Attorney's office said they aren't certain which company the tow truck that appears in the video belongs to.

"I can’t confirm with 100% certainty...It looks like it could be though," spokesperson Jen Kwart said in an email early Friday.

Kwart told The Standard Tuesday that the tow company suspended by the city after their owners were accused of criminal activity, called Specialty Towing and Recovery, is based at 1229 Underwood Ave. in San Francisco. The suspended company has a similar-sounding name to the one that owns the tow truck seen in a video depicting the incident Tuesday, which is called Specialty Towing.

Specialty Towing and Recovery and affiliated companies Auto Towing and Jose’s Towing were recently suspended by the city of San Francisco after City Attorney David Chiu accused owners Abigail Fuentes and Jose Badillo of committing fraud by claiming welfare benefits despite having $2 million in gross annual revenue from their towing companies.

The City Attorney's Office also accused the companies of illegally towing several cars from a bank parking lot in San Francisco's Portola neighborhood without the property owner's permission, limiting the times vehicles could be retrieved and pressuring vehicle owners to pay in cash to get their cars back.

“Auto Towing intentionally misled and scammed people out of hundreds of dollars by illegally towing cars and making them hard to retrieve,” Chiu said in a Feb. 6 press release.

California Department of Transportation records show the tow truck involved in Tuesday's incident has the same name as the one barred from doing business in San Francisco. Still, it shows the company is registered to a different address than what the City Attorney has on file. The Standard’s attempts to contact Specialty Towing’s owner were unsuccessful.

Harry said he and his wife were doing fine Thursday but called the incident shocking and a little bit traumatizing. One key to greater peace of mind was learning that the incident had been captured on video and shared on Reddit.

"When we did call 911, while we were getting away from the tow truck and going to our local police station, they didn't really believe what we had to say,” Harry said. “I mean, if you just say, like, ‘Hey, a tow truck is right in front of me and trying to claim me while I'm on the street driving,’ no one will believe it, right? 

"To be honest, it was like the wrong time, wrong place," he added. "I would not think anything like this could ever happen, especially with a tow truck. Pretty bizarre."

Update: This story has been updated to remove the last name of Harry due to fears for his personal safety.

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