Consumer alert: Missing tire mystery

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DENVER -- It could happen to anybody.  You are involved in an accident.  Your car is damaged and must be towed to an impound lot.

It happened to Gina Williams. But what happened to Williams’ car while it was out of her possession was an unexpected and unpleasant surprise.

The Thornton mother had spent thousands of dollars on new tires and brakes when she nearly totaled her truck in an accident.

Williams’ wrecked Toyota truck arrived at Red’s impound lot in Thornton on November 14, 2013.

Williams took pictures of her truck on the lot the next day showing new Dunlop tires on the vehicle. The truck sat at Red’s for 13 days before it was towed to a lot at Copart Salvage where an insurance adjuster would assess the damage.

Copart took what they call intake pictures within an hour after the truck arrived at their lot. The two sets of pictures show something is clearly different.

The new Dunlop tires that were on Williams’ truck after the accident were gone and replaced by flat, mismatched balding tires.

“I was incredibly upset, it was devastating.” Williams said.  She called Red’s and the general manager told her, “He just said that wouldn’t happen here and hung up the phone on me.” Williams said.

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That’s when Williams did what a lot of consumers would do, she posted a comment about Red’s Towing on the website “Yelp” that said, “Do not, I repeat do not let these guys take your car …”

A few weeks later, Williams received a letter from Red’s Towing’s lawyer threatening to file a lawsuit against her if she didn’t “withdraw her review” and “publish a retraction.”

Williams felt she had no other choice, but to replace her negative review with one that said, “The most honest and upright gentlemen you could ever hope for. Way to go Red’s and keep hiring such great, honest people.”

Red’s owner, David Widhalm, refused to do an interview, but told Fox31 Denver’s investigative reporter Heidi Hemmat on the phone, “I’ll tell you right now, on the record, or off the record, if you guys say I stole them tires, you better have the damn proof.”

Widhalm said their security cameras could have proved nothing was taken from Williams' truck, but the video no longer exists.

Widhalm told Hemmat that there has never been a theft from his impound lot.  Hemmat asked, “Have you ever had any employees steal from your yard?” Widhalm replied, “Nope.”

But, our investigation found that is not true.

In 2012 Widhalm filed a police report accusing four of his employees of stealing.

The police report said, “David estimates they stole about $300,000 from Red’s towing … in cash … They also scrapped and sold vehicles for cash and took the money for themselves.”

When Hemmat asked about the police report, Widhalm changed his story admitting some of his former employees were stealing parts, but he insists not from his customers.

After our phone call we received a statement from Widhalm’s attorney which said in part, “To the extent possible because of the passage of time, we have investigated Ms. Williams’ accusations that Red’s Towing or its agents took tires off of her 2002 Toyota Tacoma … Red’s Towing categorically denies that any items were taken from Ms. Williams’ vehicle …”

Williams said, “I could have had a blow out on the freeway. I could have slid off the road somewhere.”

Williams may never know who took her tires.  Her insurance company eventually paid for the new tires, after she paid an additional $500 deductible on top of what she paid out of pocket for body repair.

Williams wants everyone to know how important it is to take pictures after an accident.  Without the pictures, she would have no proof that there were new tires on her vehicle when it was towed.

Copart Salvage refused to comment, but did provide pictures they took when the truck arrived on their lot.

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