Dozens of disgruntled LSU fans stood in the rain Sunday afternoon waiting to retrieve their cars and lamenting what some consider the unfair practices of one Baton Rouge impound lot that has long received complaints for towing cars around campus.
It was a sad scene — the disappointment of LSU's 29-0 loss to Alabama diminished in the face of more pressing concerns for those gathered outside Riverside Towing. The lot is just south of the Mississippi River Bridge overpass near downtown Baton Rouge and the business was open Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Several people waiting — mostly college students whose cars are in their parents' names — complained about the entire process, starting with the reasons their vehicles had been towed on a weekend when the influx of college football fans causes space constraints for people parking around campus.
Catherine Pruitt, a freshman at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, had come to Baton Rouge for the weekend to visit her boyfriend at LSU and watch the game. She said she left her car overnight Friday at the nearby Highland Road CVS, which is open 24 hours.
She woke up Saturday morning to find her car was gone and noticed a sign in the parking lot with information about the towing company. So she went to the impound lot Saturday afternoon and was told she would need $241 in cash and written consent from her mom, who owns the vehicle. Pruitt said she asked if her mom could give consent over the phone but was told it had to be in writing.
Pruitt spent most of the weekend dealing with her car situation and ended up missing the LSU game on Saturday. She said her boyfriend went to the game without her — which she described as "the last straw" in her decision to end the relationship.
"What else could go wrong at this point," she said while standing outside Riverside with two friends and smiling in disbelief. "All I know is this whole weekend did not go as planned. That's for sure."
Pruitt and her friends were waiting for a fax to come through from her mom that would allow the company to release her vehicle. But she said later that employees told her the information hadn't arrived by 2 p.m., meaning she would have to return Monday morning and continue the process. Pruitt was concerned she would then be charged additional storage fees.
A sign on the side of the office indicates storage costs $24 per day.
Riverside employees said the company had no comment and could not reveal how many vehicles had been towed from around LSU campus over the weekend. The employees also accused a reporter of harassing their customers and forbade the reporter from stepping foot on company property.
A Baton Rouge police officer was stationed at the entrance to the impound lot apparently for security purposes.
WBRZ-TV reported earlier this year that the company has contracts with several apartment complexes near Tiger Stadium to remove illegally parked cars, which often becomes a problem during LSU home games.
LSU freshman Robert Doerr said he parked at his friend's apartment complex after midnight on Saturday. He said the lot was full so he parked in a questionable space at the end of a row. He went to leave that afternoon to get ready for the game and couldn't find his car. He nonetheless went to the game with friends and ended up at Riverside on Sunday after calling the company multiple times and receiving only a busy signal.
His friend had dropped him off there expecting he would be able to drive himself home. But Doerr was told the vehicle couldn't be released without written consent from his dad, so he called his friend back and asked for a ride to CVS to print out the necessary paperwork.
"To have this happen on the morning of the Bama game, I just don't see the need for it. (My car) wasn't blocking anything," he said. "This is my first time being towed. … I would say the customer service is horrible."
LSU students have been complaining about Riverside Towing for years. Their frustration is no secret, thanks in part to multiple editorials in the student newspaper.
"They circle like vultures around the parking lots of Baton Rouge. They prowl like hunters up and down streets, looking for easy prey," one student wrote in a 2014 Daily Reveille editorial. "They are the Riverside Towing fleet, and they have spoiled more than one LSU student's day. … The lots in and around LSU have practically become the Wild West."
It's unclear whether Riverside Towing is making its own decisions on which vehicles to tow or acting at the request of the property owners.
A public Facebook group called "Make Riverside Towing pay" has more than 2,000 members. The group's administrator, Baton Rouge attorney Neil Sweeney, has posted numerous times over the past several years encouraging people to take action if they feel the company has towed their cars illegally.
"Predatory towing by Riverside Towing is a big problem in this town," the group's description reads. "It will not stop until the victims act."