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Impoundment City, USA
New Athens ordinance nets haul of vehicles, 174 since Aug. 9

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

ATHENS — Get a 170-piece Lego set and dump the contents in the floor.

Look at all those pieces and then imagine there are that many drivers on city roadways who do not have a license.

Can’t imagine it? Well, there are more than that many taking to the streets.

Between Aug. 9 and Friday, Athens police caught 174 of them and impounded that many vehicles because the
drivers did not have licenses, Capt. Tracy Harrison said.

In June, the City Council approved an impound ordinance that requires officers to have a vehicle impounded if the driver does not have a license or is driving with a revoked or suspended license.

An owner must pay the wrecker company any tow charges and pay the city a $25 administrative fee to retrieve a vehicle. Harrison said 55 of the 174 vehicles remained impounded Friday.

Laura Reinhardt, office manager for Berzett Wrecker Services, said most people have been cooperative.

“We’ve had a couple people who weren’t thrilled about not being able to just come get their vehicle but having to go the police first,” she said. “But overall, people haven’t given us any trouble.”

Reinhardt said Berzett has always required an owner to show identification.

Now, however, the owner must go to Athens police with two licensed drivers and show proof of insurance on the impounded vehicle. The police give the owner a release, which the owner takes to the wrecker company along with the licensed drivers, identification and proof of insurance.

“We make sure everything matches, and I make a photocopy,” Reinhardt said.

Officers always offer the driver a ride home or allow the driver to call for a ride.

“I’m told it’s going good, and they are not having any problems enforcing the ordinance,” said Council President Harold Wales. “Chief (Wayne) Harper told me a good thing coming out of this is that people are coming in with new driver licenses and new insurance cards, which is just exactly what I wanted to see. It will make our streets safer.”

The new ordinance did provoke one driver, who put a threat about killing cops on his MySpace page, according to police. Authorities charged that driver with inciting to riot and had MySpace remove the page.

Other than that incident, city leaders are not hearing negative comments.

“I have not had the first call from anyone complaining about it,” said Councilman Johnny Crutcher. “I think it is going good.”

A national newspaper has taken note. USA Today called Councilman Ronnie Marks.

Marks said the newspaper’s reporter wanted to talk about whether the ordinance was intended to “control” the streets and stop illegal immigrants from driving.

“I quickly assured her that was not the purpose of the action and that it was about trying to make our streets a safer place for all of us and that it was directed toward anyone that does not have a valid driver’s license,” Marks said.

USA Today mentioned Athens in an Aug. 14 story titled “Cities get at illegal immigrants through cars,” saying simply that “a new towing ordinance in Athens, Ala., targets unlicensed drivers.”

Mayor Dan Williams said legal drivers appreciate the city for enforcing the ordinance.

“Most folks seem to think since they themselves go to the trouble of passing a test, buying a license and insurance, then everyone should have to do the same thing,” Williams said. “People shouldn’t flout the law.”

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