The father of a San Francisco public utility worker is suing the tow truck company responsible for her death and a major insurance carrier for hiring the troubled towing outfit.
The lawsuit, filed last week in San Francisco County Superior Court, accuses State Farm of negligence for “selecting, retaining or referring” Irvine Auto Towing, despite the tow company’s lack of a valid motor carrier permit to tow cars.
“I want these guys off the street, companies like that have no business being on the street,” Jose Preciado told NBC Bay Area.
In June, Lilianna Preciado was repairing a leaky water main on 28th Street in San Francisco when the 34-year-old was struck by a runaway Buick that detached from an Irvine Auto Towing truck. The owner of the Buick told police investigators she needed the inoperable car towed and called State Farm insurance, who sent Irvine Auto Towing to do the job.
Jose is now raising his 2-year-old granddaughter Alina.
“She’s missing her mom. She’s a very, very smart girl and it’s hard to explain,” Jose said. “I told her that her mom went to bed and woke up in heaven. She wants to go to heaven.”
Jose said Lilianna’s loss left a gaping hole in their tight knit family.
“My wife’s not doing too good. Her and Lilianna were really tight, so it’s tough just walking in the house. Everything reminds me of her,” Jose said. “She was actually the spark of the family. The one that would organize all the reunions, our trips, we just had to take a trip to Disneyland for my granddaughter that [Lilianna] planned. She was always trying to get the family together.”
UNLICENSED AND UNPERMITTED
After the accident, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit found that Irvine Auto Towing, which also uses the names Stride, Pride, and Modestow, racked up millions of dollars in fines and safety violations prior to Lilianna’s death.
In April, state regulators suspended Irvine Auto Towing’s motor carrier permit after a string of violations that include hiring unlicensed drivers, towing cars without safety restraints, and failing to carry workers comp insurance.
Preciado family attorney Chuck Geerhart believes State Farm should have known about Irvine Auto Towing’s permit status and safety history before hiring the company and sending its trucks out to State Farm customers.
“Insurance companies like State Farm have access to all kinds of databases. They can tell you in a minute whether a driver has any blemishes, they would certainly know, in the exercise of due care, whether [Irvine Auto Towing], had performance problems,” Geerhart said.
NBC Bay Area reached out to State Farm to ask whether the company still uses Irvine Auto Towing and whether it’s aware of the company’s safety record.
A spokesperson said in a statement “While we do not comment on pending litigation… State Farm does not have any direct business relationships with towing providers and that is true regarding the tow operators named in this lawsuit.”
STILL ON THE ROAD
After NBC Bay Area started asking questions, officers with the California Highway Patrol inspected Irvine Auto Towing’s offices in Oakland and Anaheim. CHP officers cited Irvine Auto Towing for operating without a permit, failure to carry insurance, and failure to inspect vehicles among other violations. Both locations also received an “unsatisfactory” rating.
Despite the most recent round of violations, records show that Irvine Auto Towing’s permit was renewed on July 24th after the company purchased an insurance policy. This allows the company to continue to operate while they work to address their other violations.
NBC Bay Area reached out to Andi and Noel Yaco, the owners of Irvine Auto Towing, but they did not return calls for comment.
Jose Preciado hopes his lawsuit will help prevent another death.
“I want justice. We already lost one life, we don’t want to lose more lives,” Jose said.
CHP is scheduled to conduct a follow up inspection at Irvine Auto Towing later this fall. If the company receives another unsatisfactory rating, the state could permanently revoke its permit.