Hundreds of cars parked on the wintry streets of St. Paul and Minneapolis disappear in the dark of night each year, dragged through snow-choked thoroughfares, swallowed up by crowded impound lots, locked away for a sweet sum.
St. Paul residents can bail out cars towed during snow emergencies for the price of approximately 84 large cups of Dunn Bros. coffee; or, 29 regular-size bowls of pho at iPho by Saigon; or, a one-night bed and breakfast package at The Saint Paul Hotel (pre-tax, as of the time of this writing). That's $209, if you don't want to do the math, with an additional $15 storage fee each day the car remains in the impound lot. (And the lines, don't forget about the lines.)
For one St. Paul woman, that prospect was apparently too much to handle, so when she saw her car being towed about 1:13 a.m. Wednesday morning, she sprang into action. She ran out of her home in the 600 block of Burr Street, yelled at the tow truck driver, jumped in her car and tried to drive off, according to police.
The woman's car was halfway up the flatbed of a tow truck when she jumped into the front passenger seat, slid over to the driver's seat and started the engine.
"She drove forward up on the bed of the truck and was not able to drive it backwards off the truck because it was secured by chains and cables," said St. Paul police Sgt. Mike Ernster, a department spokesman.
Police officers happened to be nearby and intervened, prompting the woman to return to her home. The officers told the woman she was violating parking restrictions triggered by the snow emergency, which is intended to clear city streets of vehicles so plows can remove snow.
The woman told police she was unaware of the snow emergency, Ernster said.
In the process of trying to reclaim her car, the woman had possibly popped a tire. The car ended up being towed, Ernster said, because the woman told police she was unable to pay a "drop fee" to have the car released to her so she could park it legally in a different location.
The woman was not cited for her actions.
"Getting into it -- trying to maneuver it off the truck -- is putting the tow truck driver in danger, putting herself in danger," Ernster said. "If you can't pay the drop fee at the time, just deal with it later."
St. Paul residents can pay a drop fee to have their cars released at the scene for the price of approximately 30 large cups of Dunn Bros. coffee; or, 10 regular-size bowls of pho at iPho by Saigon; or, less than half a day's stay in the cheapest room at The Saint Paul Hotel (pre-tax, as of the time of this writing). (That's $75, if you don't want to do the math.)
According to Ernster, the $75 drop fee is standard for all tow truck companies that contract with the city during snow emergencies. A $56 citation for violating the snow emergency does not have to be paid at the scene in order to have a car released.
But, Ernster cautioned, if a vehicle is already secured on a tow truck and other cars are being added to the same flatbed, the car does not have to be released to its owner.
As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, 476 cars had been towed in St. Paul and 1,306 citations were issued for violating the snow emergency.
St. Paul declared a snow emergency beginning 9 p.m. Tuesday. Visit www.stpaul.gov/snow or call 651-266-PLOW for more information. To find a list of snow-related frequently asked questions, visit www.stpaul.gov/snowFAQs.
Text "STPAUL NOW" to 468311 to receive a text message when a snow emergency is declared, or text "STPAUL NOW" along with your email address to 468311 to receive an email instead.
"I think the moral of this story is: If your car is being towed, it's not the end of the world," Ernster said. "The best thing is to let cooler heads prevail."