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Wrecker service feast or famine

By Chris Paschenko
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2442

Decatur wrecker service owners, who charge $100 or more when police call them from a rotation list, defend the practice, citing decreasing profits from higher insurance premiums and fuel costs.

Jim Clemons, president of the wrecker consortium in Decatur and owner of A-1 Towing, answers police dispatch calls 24 hours per day and dispatches the next wrecker company on the list when police need to clear the street.

The rotation list ensures each of the city's 10 wrecker services receive their fair share of the police calls for service. It also ensures a 20-minute arrival on the wreck scene, or police call for the next one on the list.

Clemons said the wrecker business is feast or famine, and that owners aren't making "a ton of money" doing it.

"We can get as many as six to eight calls at one time or one in a 24-hour period," Clemons said. "I'm spending $180 to $190 in diesel fuel every day."

Mike Turner, of McBride Wrecker Service, said insurance premiums quickly eat his profits.

"If I didn't have to work wrecks, I could get by with a $100,000 policy," Turner said.

"But the minimum requirement is $750,000 for the city and state. One of the reasons is if you pick up wrecks there are more chances of getting hurt on the job ... the insurance jacks you up."

The cost of running a towing business has changed over the years, Turner said.

"In 1974, I had a buddy running a wrecker service," Turner said. "And basically you could buy a new wrecker for $4,000 and fuel was 80 cents a gallon. Some trucks now cost $60,000, and fuel costs have tripled."

Clemons said the association also helps the needy in the community with donations, including recent purchases of a wheelchair and breathing machine.


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