MARC CHASE: Reason emerges from polar vortex chaos

2014-01-14T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Reason emerges from polar vortex chaosMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
January 14, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Last week's polar vortex threw a stone-cold uppercut into the region's chin, shutting down schools, roads and snarling any traffic caught in the middle of the snowy deluge.

It can be hard for public services to counter such devastating punches of nature, and it wasn't always pretty last week. But at least one municipality deserves some praise for working to make right a situation that in the eyes of many received an initially wrong response.

The winter storm chaos became particularly acute for Lakes of the Four Seasons resident Don Honeycutt. Our phones and emails lit up in protest after The Times reported last week that towing company Midnight Blue essentially charged Honeycutt $100 on Jan. 5 to pass through an area of 109th Street hemmed in by other snow-stranded vehicles.

High winds piled 15 inches of snow into even higher drifts on 109th as Honeycutt was making his way home after picking up his son from a job at the YMCA in Crown Point. Though Honeycutt's vehicle never physically became stuck, the towing company called in by Crown Point police to help remedy the situation ended up demanding $100 from Honeycutt to pass through.

Many readers we heard from sided with Honeycutt, dubbing the charge he received as circumstantially predatory.

I don't fault Crown Point police for calling in Midnight Blue trucks to clear the road, nor is there fault in Midnight Blue charging to dislodge legitimately snow-stranded vehicles. According to Chief Pete Land, the company had tow and plowing trucks that were closer and better able to deal with the snarl that night on 109th, which is the major route linking Winfield and Four Seasons to the rest of the county.

But, like many of you, I did take issue with the requirement that Honeycutt pay. His vehicle didn't spin off the road, didn't end up in a drift and didn't require towing. And the plowing service Midnight Blue provided to the route was part of the city's liability — not Honeycutt's.

A tow truck even blocked the lanes of 109th near Iowa Street, and Honeycutt said someone threatened to tow his car if he didn't pay the $100 fee. The whole thing smacked of impropriety.

On Monday, however, Land reported Crown Point made it right, at least as far as the Honeycutt family is concerned.

The city, which holds responsibility for keeping its roads passable, plans to reimburse Honeycutt the $100 fee and is working through changes to its policies for such future situations, Land said.

Chaos can lead to mistakes that never should have occurred. Land said in the postmortem debriefings of the winter storm chaos from last week, he and other city officials realized a mistake had been made.

He said officers who had been on the scene acknowledged Honeycutt never should have been charged — that his vehicle was far enough back that it wasn't technically stuck.

It's in our nature to pounce — often rightfully so — on public entities that make mistakes. But we should be equally ready to note when reason rights the ship.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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