July 5, 2012 | Volume 42, No.27

Tow truck bill rankles visitors

A visitor from Whitehorse, Y.T. who paid $780 to reclaim his trailer after a dispute with tow truck operator Paul Nelson is seeking redress through the Haines Borough.

Alexander Gubergrits said he was deceived by Nelson and that he never would have agreed to a $450 bill Nelson presented him after pulling Gubergrits’ trailer from a stuck spot at Chilkoot campground at around noon on June 30.

Further, he claims Nelson stole his trailer after he refused to pay and that later, when he was paying the bill of $780, including for impoundment, Nelson made the Nazi salute and said, “Heil Hitler” to Gubergrits and his wife.

Gubergrits, a Whitehorse resident who speaks in broken English, said he is a Ukrainian Jew.

Nelson said this week he was sorry he made the Hitler remark and gesture. He said he became frustrated with Gubergits and wife Galina Belokopitou and that he impounded the trailer after Gurbergrits refused to pay for service.

The incident started when Gubergrits’ trailer became stuck behind a tree at the campground. Through campground host Bob Deck, Gubergrits was told Nelson’s weekend rate would be $300 an hour, with a one-hour minimum, plus $1 per mile for mileage, Deck said.

Gubergrits said Nelson’s company never made it clear that the $300 per hour charge started when Nelson left his downtown shop. Nelson acknowledged he never explained to Gubergrits that $300 an hour was charged for total time on the job, but said that should have been evident.

“I’ve never had to explain to anyone we charge from when we punch on the job to when we punch off… For him to think I would drive out there just for mileage, that to me is something from outer space,” Nelson said.

Gubergrits and Nelson disagree on the total time Nelson spent on the job. Nelson said he arrived in 20 minutes and spent about an hour at the campground. Including his time returning to town, the bill would have come to more than $450, Nelson said. “I was offering him a discount,” Nelson said.

Gubergrits said Nelson took 50 minutes to arrive and spent a maximum half hour moving the trailer before the disagreement started over the $450 bill. How Nelson came to take the trailer to town is also in contention.

Gubergrits said that when he balked at paying the $450, Nelson asked if he should return the trailer to the stuck position where he found it. Gubergrits said he agreed to that. Nelson, however, said he asked Gubergrits, “Do you want me to take it back?” meaning repossess it.

Nelson said it should have been obvious he didn’t mean to say he would return the trailer to the stuck position. “That wouldn’t have made a great deal of sense, since he was unwilling to pay me for what I’d already done,” Nelson said.

Nelson drove off with the trailer, with Gubergrits following behind, at one point stopping in front of him on Lutak Road. Nelson said he crossed the center line to avoid Gubergrits, as he was worried about causing an accident by stopping in traffic on a blind corner.

Gubergrits and Nelson agree that Gubergrits signed a blank service order Nelson presented him before hooking up to the trailer. Nelson said he explained his fee verbally and that by signing the form, Gubergrits agreed to pay $300 an hour.

Nelson said the service order gave him a mechanic’s lien on the trailer, to use in the event he wasn’t paid. Gubergrits said he asked Nelson what he was signing and Nelson told him it was for Gubergrits’ permission to hook up to the trailer.

Nelson described the service order as a type of contract and said Gubergrits had the right to write on the order the total he was expecting to pay. “I told him, ‘You understand it’s $300 minimum. He said, ‘Minimum?’ I said, ‘Minimum.’ He said okay. Then he signed the work order,” Nelson said.

Gubergrits said he was dissatisfied with a Haines Police determination that the dispute is a civil matter. He was to meet with Mayor Stephanie Scott and police chief Gary Lowe July 5.

Scott said she first would look at code to see what action the borough might take in the matter. “What discretion does a municipality have and what does it say in code?”

The City of Haines and Haines Chamber of Commerce became involved in a similar case in 1995 when Nelson charged a Wisconsin tourist $600 for a tow from 80 Mile Haines Highway.

Nelson said he knows $300 an hours sounds steep, but said he liked to get a day off. He presented a copy of a June 24 service order for $1,177 Nelson said was paid to him for 3.5 hours labor for servicing a vehicle at 33 Mile. “The customer said, ‘Thank you very much,’” Nelson said.