Beach Wal-Mart towing policy causes some confusion

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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla (WJHG/WECP) - A local woman is upset after she said her car was almost towed out of a Panama City Beach Wal-Mart twice in one day.

The towing company, White’s Gulf County Wrecker Service, claimed they work with Wal-Mart during spring break to help keep the parking lots safe.

Michele Giroux said she parked her Mini Cooper near the back of a Panama City Beach Wal-Mart parking lot on Sunday while doing some shopping.

"I parked back here to avoid as many cars as I could," she said.

Giroux said when she came back to her car, it was about to be towed away by White’s Gulf County Wrecker service.

"So I ran after it and I was able to stop the guy."

Hassie White, the manager for the tow company, said she’d heard Giroux was dropped off in front of the store and three other people parked the car and walked off.

Giroux, however, said she was alone and had heard something different.

"They explained to me that they had taken my car because they had a spotter who had seen some young people leaning on my car and then they got into a car that was parked right next to mine,” she said. “And they assumed that those spring breakers had left my car while they went somewhere else to have a good time."

After speaking with the Wal-Mart manager inside, Giroux said she came back to see her car about to be towed again.

“At this point I lost it,” she said, noting that she got into an argument with the tow truck driver.

White said it was a miscommunication.

"Usually they actually take pictures of the people leaving the parking lot,” she said of the people who act as spotters in the parking lot. “We can't get to everybody to say, 'Hey, don't park here.' It's impossible when you're looking at five or six car loads of people walking off."

White said they only look for people who park in the Wal-Mart lot and leave the property.

White said they’ve worked with the Wal-Mart this way for the past three years to clear the lot for customers and to prevent partying or drinking in the lot.

"The goal is to make sure that the parking lot doesn't fill up with people,” White said, “and not leave room for the customers to park and you know the parties don't go on."

Giroux said White’s has been cooperative and apologetic, but said she doesn’t feel comfortable shopping in the Wal-Mart.

"There's no hard feelings between us,” she explained. “I just feel that they need to make sure they're much more careful about who they target for towing."

NewsChannel 7 also reached out to Wal-Mart staff. A representative with corporate Wal-Mart said they are sorry for the misunderstanding over the weekend. They said they have spoken with White’s and local Wal-Mart managers. Wal-Mart’s general policy is no overnight parking, but that Wal-Marts can use their own discretion in doing what they believe is best for the store.