JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The family of a woman killed in December says it has finally reached an agreement with a towing company after Channel 4 started investigating their situation. The family claims a local towing company was taking advantage of them after their loved one was killed.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office says Telia Toaltoan (pictured, right) was shot by her boyfriend, Prince Sanders, who then took off in her car. When police apprehended Sanders, the vehicle was eventually released to Toaltoan's mother, Sonya Pannell, who was listed as next-of-kin on her daughter's death certificate.
Pannell lives with her daughter, Kishronda Patruska, who moved to Jacksonville from Arizona with her five children so she could care for Telia's sons, who are 2 and 3 years old.
But last month, the car was towed from their Arlington neighborhood and the family says REM Auto &Towing on Philips Highway refused to give it back because Toaltoan's mother was not the registered owner.
Telia's sister, Kishronda Patruska, says the car was parked in the driveway of an abandoned house, right next to their Arlington home. It was moved there so Patruska's 3-year-old nephew, Darien, wouldn't see it.
Patruska says Darien saw his father shoot and kill his mother and then take off her red Impala, and that car has given him night terrors.
"The first thing he said about everything that happened was that he was scared that his daddy was going to come back in the red car and shoot him. So I didn't want to leave the car outside because it was something he was afraid of," said Patruska.
She says a therapist has been treating her nephew since his mother's murder and advised that seeing the car is detrimental to his healing.
Patruska says when she left the car at the abandoned home; she left a note on the dash board explaining if the car needed to be moved she lives right next door. She also wrote her cellphone number on the note.
She says no one knocked on her door, or called her, but days later she noticed the car was gone.
"My mom called every notice that was posted on the door," explained Patruska, describing several foreclosure notices posted on the front door.
What the family didn't know was that the home had been sold, bought by a management company. Once the family found that management company, they were told to call REM Auto & Towing in order to get the car back. So they did.
"He told me I couldn't get the car and he told me I couldn't have it, he could only release it to Telia. I said ‘as much as I'd like to bring her back from the dead, I can't,'" said Pannell.
Patruska says she also called REM Auto & Towing and says the owner told her the same thing.
Patruska says she responded to the towing company, "And I say no, the law says that you can release it to the registered owner or the person who has legal custody of it. And since the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office turned it over to her next of kin, which is my mom, which we can prove with her death certificate that would be who had legal custody of it. And he said ‘no' it can only be the registered owner."
Patruska then says she called the Jacksonville Sheriff's office.
"I called the help line," she said. "The officer was really nice and he called the tow truck company and called me back and said, 'Pretty much he doesn't want to release the car and he probably wants to sell it. And it's a civil matter and we're sorry but you will have to take it to court,'"
Patruska says she and her mother both kept calling REM Auto & Towing, but no one returned their calls. Two weeks after the car was towed, they say the owner changed his mind.
Patruska says the owner told her, "You can bring in the death certificate, but it has to have your mom's name on it."
Patruska say she then told him, "We already told you it has her name on it when we called you all those other times."
Patruska tells me she was confused by this because nothing had changed. She had the same paperwork she had when she called the towing company the Monday after it was towed. She says she then felt taken advantage of because now she says the owner told her, "You have to pay all the fees, the towing and every day that it was stored."
The car had now been at the lot for two weeks. The storage fee had climbed from $25 to $350.
"To suddenly say, 'Yes, you can pick it up, but you owe us all this money,' when it's your fault I owe all this money. It would have been gone on Monday if you would have let me come and pick it up," Patruska complained.
I went over to REM Auto & Towing to find out why the owner was making the family pay for all those extra days the car was stored on his lot.
Here's the exchange:
Waugh: "I'm looking for the owner, are you the owner? I'm here about Telia Toaltoan's car. Her car was towed on April 20th, she was murdered. Her family has called you asking for you to release the car to them and you've refused to."
REM Auto & Towing: "No, I told them as long as they showed me they own it, that I can release it."
Waugh: "They told you that they had the certified death certificate, which I have here, which shows the mother's name written right here, she's the one that's called you, as well as her sister."
REM Auto & Towing: "They haven't produced it to me at all."
Jennifer Waugh: "You told them that you wouldn't give it to them, that this wasn't enough."
REM Auto & Towing: "I told them as long as they can prove who they are and they got that, they can get the car."
Waugh: "They called you two weeks later, after they say that you said no, that you wouldn't release it, and you said that, they had the death certificate."
REM Auto & Towing: "All I am doing is try to help them."
Waugh: "How did you try to help them? You know she was murdered, right?"
REM Auto & Towing: "No I did not know that."
Waugh: "She was murdered and her family is now taking care of her two young children."
REM Auto & Towing: "All I do was impound it."
Waugh: "The reason, the reason that that car was parked where it was, is because her 3-year-old is afraid his daddy's gonna come back in that red car and kill him."
REM Auto & Towing: "Well the bank said pick it up, that's what I do."
Waugh: "OK, and they have called you though, and you told them that you would in fact release it, that you would release it after…"
REM Auto & Towing: "I'm done talking to you."
Waugh: "Well what are you going to do about fixing this, sir?"
REM Auto & Towing: "Get off my property, get off."
Waugh: "Is that all you have to say to this family that's already suffered a terrible loss?"
After our conversation with the owner, the family called me and says the owner has now agreed to waive the storage fee. They say they are grateful for the change of heart.
The family says they still cannot park the car where Darien (right) can see it. They say they would like to have it painted, but can't afford it. They hope to sell the car and use the money to care for Telia's boys.
We checked with the Better Business Bureau to find out if REM Auto and Towing has had any complaints waged against it in the past. It has not.
We should note that the company was not breaking the law by refusing, according to the family, to turn over the vehicle. As it turns out, the towing statute does not address cases in which someone has died suddenly. In order for Sonya Pannell to legally qualify as an agent or custodian of her daughter's car, her daughter would have had to authorize it. Something she obviously cannot do since she was killed.
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