The owner of a Florida tow truck company could face hate crime charges after he allegedly illegally towed dozens of vehicles belonging to Gay Day visitors in June.
Jason Combs, the owner of ASAP Towing in Orange County, faces 29 counts of grand theft of a motor vehicle after he allegedly towed more than 100 cars from June 5 to 9 from a hotel parking lot. Guests were in town for the annual Gay Days hosted by Walt Disney World.
Deputies said Combs, 44, didn’t have an up-to-date contract to tow cars or proper signage notifying motorists they were in a tow-away zone.
Combs’ attorney R. David de Armas says Combs did have a valid contract with the owner of the Westwood Town Center lot and that the cars towed were parked illegally.
"The fact that the [criminal] complaint said something about Gay Days makes me wonder what's behind it," de Armas told the Orlando Sentinel. "If someone shoplifted during Gay Days would the complaint mention that it happened during Gay Days?"
Witnesses accused tow truck drivers of hiding around the corner and when they spotted someone walking from the lot to the Doubletree Hotel across the street, the event’s host hotel, the truck would move in and take their vehicle.
Cpl. Rick Schmeltzer says the contract between Westwood and ASAP expired in May and wasn’t renewed until after the Gay Day events.
“He had no authority to tow vehicles from that property,” Schmeltzer told WFTV-TV.
"He's one of those [business owners] that wants to pick and choose what [laws] he's going to follow," he added.
Schmeltzer claims Combs was targeting Gay Day revelers last year, too.
"With many of these people, their cars were towed within 5, 10 15 minutes [of parking]," Schmeltzer said. "This was total predator towing. There's really no other word for it."
According to a complaint, victims had to take a cab to the tow truck facility, pay $165 cash to get their car and pay a $40 “gate fee,” which is illegal under state law. The company made more than $16,000 illegally towing people over four days, investigators told WFTV-TV.
Victims reportedly told police that ASAP employees were rude and they felt bullied.
"A lot of customers were angry they were getting their cars towed illegally," nearby Subway employee Anthony Leal said.
Other businesses told the news channel that ASAP workers were aggressive and used sexually-charged slurs.
"Some of them felt they were intimidated because of their sexual orientation,” Schmeltzer said.
Combs is being held on $51,000 bond at Orange County Jail.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/jericl cat