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Jim Kenyon: April Fools’ Day towing no laughing matter in Royalton

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 4/7/2020 9:38:46 PM
Modified: 4/7/2020 9:38:38 PM

Trevor Metcalf, who had just been laid off from his roofing job, came out of his apartment in South Royalton Village early on April Fools’ Day only to be dealt more bad news.

“My car wasn’t there,” he said.

In the middle of the night, the town had called a towing company to haul away six cars, including Metcalf’s 2004 Honda, parked illegally in the village.

What was so urgent that the vehicles had to be removed at 3 in the morning?

Street sweeping.

No joke. Metcalf, who lives above 5 Olde Tavern & Grille on Chelsea Street, has a $175 towing bill to prove it.

Like a lot of folks, the 31-year-old Metcalf is struggling to make ends meet during the coronavirus pandemic.

He’s out of work — Gov. Phil Scott’s stay-at-home order has shut down much of the construction industry — but still has rent and other bills.

Metcalf didn’t have $175 in cash or a credit card to retrieve his car from the towing company’s lot. “I had to borrow from a friend,” he told me over the phone. “I paid him back with my last paycheck. It’s all the money I had.”

To better understand this tale of woe, I should start at the beginning:

Years ago, the Royalton Selectboard passed an ordinance that banned street parking in South Royalton Village between 2 and 6 a.m.

Many communities have parking bans during winter months to allow for snow plowing.

Although Royalton’s ban is year-round, from what I’ve heard, it’s only enforced for snow removal — except for one other night of the year. Every spring, the town hires a New Hampshire contractor to bring in a street sweeping machine to clean up the sand, salt and debris that collected over the winter.

Although the signs that prohibit parking 2 to 6 a.m. are hard to miss, I still think the town could have announced this year’s cleaning date on its website or posted fliers in the village. Seems like the neighborly thing to do.

On April 1, Demi Boles, foreman of the town’s highway department, met the street sweeping crew at around 2 a.m. — when the parking ban goes into effect in the village.

Boles called Adam Lyman, a Royalton resident who operates a towing business next to the town garage, to remove the six cars blocking the street sweeping machine’s path. When Lyman didn’t answer, Boles reached Blakeman’s Towing in Tunbridge.

Owner Kyle Blakeman told me that he recalled telling Boles, “Ah, great. You want me to tow cars when nobody has any money?”

On Monday, I caught up with Boles when he was moving sand at the town garage. Boles, who has worked for the town for 23 years, could sympathize with the people who got their vehicles towed, but he correctly pointed out that they were in the wrong.

The town “should be ticketing year-round, then people would get the message that they can’t park there overnight,” he said.

Blakeman ended up towing four vehicles. Two owners intercepted him before he got to their cars. “One woman came out screaming,” Blakeman said. “I think she was barefoot.”

He assured her, “I’m not towing your car, lady. Just move your rig.”

Donnie Perkins, who lives in the village, wrote about his experience on Facebook, which is how I heard about it. Perkins woke up at 3:30 a.m. to the sound of a “truck whining and grinding out on the street.”

He went outside to investigate. He has off-street parking behind his apartment building, but had left his car on the street overnight. There was “no snow removal, so I thought it was OK,” he said.

Perkins thanked Blakeman for not towing his car, but felt bad for the four owners who didn’t wake up in time. With so many people not working, couldn’t the town “let it slide?” Perkins wrote.

As things turned out, the sweeping machine suffered a mechanical breakdown that night. When it came back the next night to finish the job, two parked cars stood in its way.

This time, Boles reached Lyman, who sent an employee, Cameron New, to remove the vehicles. Before New headed out, Lyman instructed him not to tow the cars to the usual place. New was to leave them in the large parking lot at the Royalton Town Office Building on Route 14.

When the car owners called the next day, Lyman told them where they could pick up their vehicles, but with a twist.

When the car owners reached the town office building’s parking lot, they found Lyman’s business card with a note on the back that New had placed on their windshields: “Times are hard, no charge.”

After Boles told me about Lyman’s good deed, I called to ask what prompted him. “Everybody is in the same position right now,” the 33-year-old Lyman said. “Nobody has any money.”

On Monday, I talked with Royalton Selectboard Chairman Chris Noble, a retired Navy man who has been out of town for six weeks. From 12,000 miles away on the South Pacific Island off Bougainville, where he’s part of a humanitarian endeavor, Noble had heard about the towing saga. (With his trip prolonged by the pandemic, he stays in touch by satellite phone.)

Although the cars in the village were illegally parked, in these “hard times, it was a little harsh to tow,” Noble said.

He recommended car owners write to the Selectboard, explaining their circumstances. It will be up to the five-member board, however, to decide whether to reimburse them out of town coffers.

If Selectboard members are seeking guidance in this matter, they need to look no further than a note written on the back of a tow truck driver’s business card.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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