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Originally published February 11, 2012 at 8:04 PM | Page modified February 13, 2012 at 8:39 AM

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Seattle couple's car towed into a twilight zone

This long, strange trip into the nether world of Seattle towing keeps getting longer and stranger.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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I would venture to guess that all condo owner's cars are registered with the management... MORE
I agree the car owner made an careless mistake; But not one to justify losing the car. ... MORE
Naseer Qaudeer is perhaps correct about one thing: maybe the owner of the BMW 740i... MORE

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Nick Lallas is stalking his own car.

From his Belltown condo, he follows the wanderings of his beloved 1997 BMW 740i on the Internet.

First he saw it on Craigslist, put up for sale by a guy named Simon in Kirkland. Then he tracked it to a used-car lot in Lynnwood. Next stop was an auction house in Kent. Most recently he found "his baby" — which he believes in his heart is still his — at a boutique for German-car enthusiasts down in Portland.

"I called and they said it's been sold to some guy in Schenectady, New York," Lallas said the other day. "I want my car back. But I'm not sure I can follow it there."

This long, strange trip into the nether world of Seattle towing keeps getting longer and stranger.

I wrote about Lallas a couple months back. Last fall he and his wife came home from a long business trip and found their only car was gone. It had been towed Sept. 24 from the condo's garage — where they have a reserved spot. Then, while they were still out of town, it was sold off at auction.

"In all the towing horror stories you've heard, have you ever found anyone else that has lost their car? Your car is gone, and there's not a thing you can do about it?" asked Veronica O'Shea, Lallas' wife.

We were standing in the hallway of the King County Courthouse last week. The pair had come to small-claims court to try to get someone, anyone, to help them get their car back.

Instead, the judge maddeningly informed them that the court had mailed the hearing summons for the towing company to the wrong address (the court left off the "NE" directional.) So the case would be delayed at least another month or two.

"Oh well, what's the big deal? Just another two months without a car," Lallas said sarcastically.

"We're in the twilight zone here," O'Shea said.

This is partly a story of mistakes and incredibly bad luck. For starters, though Lallas has a spot in the garage, he apparently parked in that same spot but on a different floor.

But it also points out the power exercised in a simple tow. They can take away one of your most valuable possessions, and, if you're not around to reclaim it in what to me seems like a too-short 15 days, they can sell it off for good.

Last week, the state of Washington decided to fine Citywide Towing $5,000 for this incident (as well as $4,000 for the infamous $800 tow.) The state said the person who asked Citywide to tow the BMW (another tenant in the building) had no authority to request a tow. This is by far the most serious finding, because, as we now know, tows are not something to be taken lightly.

Plus there were paperwork and reporting errors by Citywide. The car also was wrongly sold off with Lallas' golf clubs and other personal property inside.

Naseer Quadeer, Citywide's owner, said he isn't to blame.

"I feel for him, he lost his car," Quadeer said. "But we were hired by the condo building to do a job. We did that job. We waited 15 days to auction the car. What am I supposed to do? Maybe he should go after his condo building."

Maybe. It's not clear they deserve all the blame, either. The car is worth about $6,900. If I were king, I would split the blame into thirds. Citywide and the condo building each pay $2,300 for being careless with someone else's property. Lallas would still have a stiff punishment of losing the other $2,300 — and probably never seeing his car again — just for parking in the wrong spot. And for leaving town at the wrong time, I guess.

Plus I would make the 15-day waiting period to sell off someone's car a lot longer.

But the irony is that none of the fines against Citywide, if they are ever collected, will go to Lallas. It all goes to the state. The state says it has no authority to make Lallas whole or to try to unwind this tow gone bizarrely bad.

So Lallas may very well end up with exactly what he has now.

Which is nothing but his car in Schenectady.

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com.

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