Saturday, July 29, 2017

[San Bernardino County] Apple Valley tow company scrutinized by grand jury owned by former councilman

APPLE VALLEY >> The Apple Valley Unified School District has identified the tow company whose track record was scrutinized by the San Bernardino County Grand Jury in a recent report.
Big Apple Automotive, which has two locations in Apple Valley and one in Victorville, is owned by former Apple Valley Town Councilman Jack Collingsworth. Collingsworth served one term on the Council, from 1988 through 1992. Until recently, the company was the sole towing service employed by Apple Valley Unified.
From 2014 through 2016, Big Apple Automotive towed 727 vehicles for AVUSD police — two and a half times more than the San Bernardino City Unified School District and four times more than Fontana Unified School District.
Apple Valley Unified educates 14,370 students, according to the California Department of Education, compared, to the 53,152 educated by San Bernardino City Unified and 38,014 educated by Fontana Unified.
Some of the traffic stops resulting in the tows happened either outside the jurisdiction of the AVUSD Police Department or within its jurisdiction after hours, the grand jury concluded.
What happened to almost one third of the cars towed by Big Apple Automotive on behalf of the school district is a mystery. Big Apple Automotive could not account for roughly 30 percent, or 510 of the towed vehicles, when asked by the grand jury to produce records.
An unknown number of the vehicles were lien sold by the company for fees and towing charges accrued, and only drivers of bank-owned vehicles still being financed received notices of their right to a hearing to determine the legality of the impound, according to the grand jury’s annual report released June 30.
Collingsworth did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
AVUSD personnel were out on summer break and unavailable for comment when the grand jury released its report. District offices reopened Monday.
School district attorney Margaret Chidester wrote in an email Tuesday that she will request direction from the school board at its Aug. 3 meeting on preparing a response to the grand jury’s findings.
Why AVUSD police had so many vehicles towed, why Big Apple Automotive could not account for a majority of the seized vehicles and why some drivers of impounded vehicles were not provided notice of their right to a tow hearing still isn’t clear.
Answers to those questions may or may not be addressed in the school district’s response to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations. The school district has 90 days from the time of the release of the grand jury report on June 30 to respond.
According to district spokeswoman Kristin Hernandez, AVUSD Police Chief Cesar Molina began his career with the school district as a reserve officer in 2003. He became a school police officer in 2004, then chief of police in December 2014. Molina referred requests for comment to Hernandez.
The grand jury also determined that as the number of vehicles towed by AVUSD police steadily increased from 2014 through 2016, police interaction with students declined. In addition, in May 2015, the school board approved an increase of vehicle release fees for vehicles towed by district police from $95 to $120, which the grand jury said was illegal.
State law only allows for a city, county or state agency to authorize vehicle release fee increases, according to the grand jury, noting the AVUSD Police Department is a special district.
According to Chidester, the school district is in discussions with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department on the possibility of entering into a contract defining the jurisdiction of AVUSD police and that of the Sheriff’s Department.
“The district remains committed to ensuring the safety of students and personnel and in compliance with applicable laws,” Chidester wrote in her email.
July 20, 2017
San Bernardino County Sun
By Beau Yarbrough and Joe Nelson

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