San Francisco

'Enough is Enough': Whistleblower Says Shut Down Tow Company Responsible for Young Mother's Death

Former driver Tim Hudson speaks out about safety concerns and alleged wage theft by a Bay Area tow company responsible for the death of Lilianna Preciado. As the Investigative Unit first reported, the company has a history of CHP safety violations.

A Bay Area towing company with a history of safety violations is facing new allegations from a whistleblower who says the company is putting workers and the public in danger.

Tim Hudson reached out to the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit after seeing our report detailing Irvine Auto Towing’s track record of hiring unlicensed drivers and operating without insurance. According to corporate records, Irvine Auto Towing also operates under the names Stride, Pride, and Modestow.

The company first came on our radar in June when a driver lost control of a towed vehicle. The runaway Buick rolled off the truck and fatally crushed 34-year-old Lilianna Preciado, the mother of a 2-year-old girl. Preciado was employed as a plumber by the city of San Francisco and was on the job repairing a water main on 28th street in Noe Valley.

Hudson started working for Irvine Auto Towing in late August, jump starting cars. From day one, Hudson said he saw red flags.

“The things that happened while I was there, I just knew everything wasn’t legit,” Hudson told NBC Bay Area. “I’ve watched vehicle after vehicle be serviced in the yard by people who don't seem qualified. Handymen just looking up stuff on Youtube and piecing things together.”

After three weeks on the job, he said he quit when the company refused to pay him for all of his hours.

“I never filled out a W2,” Hudson said. “The first two weeks I was there I worked four days without pay.”

As it turns out, Irvine Auto Towing has a history of not paying its workers. In 2017, the state issued a $4.8 million fine to the company for cheating dispatchers, drivers and mechanics out of their hard earned wages.

According to investigators, employees were forced to work 12 hour days without breaks or overtime pay, and some worked seven days a week.

“This is an egregious case of wage theft affecting a large group of workers who were denied a just day’s pay and forced to work without meals or rest breaks,” Labor Commissioner Julie Su said.

More than a year later, the Labor Commissioner’s Office tells NBC Bay Area the agency still has not collected a single penny of that fine to repay employees.

“When do you say enough is enough? That we're going to take away your business license, take away your capability of making money just like you would do any other business,” Hudson said.

Employment Lawyer David Mallen represents victims of wage theft across the state. In 2017, Mallen sued Irvine Auto Towing on behalf of two workers in Southern California. The company did not acknowledge wrongdoing, but paid the workers an out-of-court settlement.

“If I steal your wallet, I am subject to criminal charges and I go to jail . . . [But] an employer repeatedly rips off wages of hard-working families and they don’t get charged criminally,” Mallen told NBC Bay Area. “I would like to see better enforcement tools given to the people at the Labor Commissioner’s Office.

The attorney wants state lawmakers to require a bond to do business or put a lien on a company’s property when it commits wage theft. Mallen believes wage theft puts people in danger, especially in industries where workers are on the road.

“If you treat people like machines, they will break down. It will be unsafe; they will make more mistakes. They will get out on the road and get in more accidents.”

NBC Bay Area reached out to Irvine Auto Towing for comment but the owners did not returned our calls.

The Labor Commissioner’s Office also declined our request for an interview to discuss why the agency has not collected any of the money Irvine Auto Towing owes the state. A spokesperson said the agency is “actively working to investigate” and that “hard work is being done to collect these unpaid wages.”

In addition to the Labor Commissioner, CHP, SFPD, and CalOSHA tell us they all have ongoing investigations looking at this company.

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