Active duty sailor whose car was towed says cost to get it back is too high

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Dauud Celestine is proud to serve his country.  He's a First Class Nuclear Machinist Mate aboard the USS Oklahoma City, stationed in Guam, but spent several months in San Diego last year when his submarine was getting a tune-up.

Celestine decided to buy a car to get around the city.  He settled on a classic 1984 Porsche 944. The car needed some work, but Celestine is a mechanic, so that didn't bother him.

In September, Celestine was ordered to report back to CSS-15 in Guam.  The notice came just hours before his flight.  Because of the short notice, Celestine parked the red Porsche in the long-term parking lot at Naval Base Point Loma.  He gave the keys to a friend stationed there and asked that friend to keep an eye on it and occasionally start the engine until Celestine could arrange to have the car shipped to Guam.

Seven months later Celestine's friend told him the car was no longer in the spot where he'd parked it.

"I started kinda freaking out, because I was wondering did I leave it somewhere bad you know, did something happen to it, that they towed it?" Celestine wondered.

RELATED: City of San Diego and military rules for towing vehicles

He began making long-distance calls from Guam to base security at Point Loma.  Eventually, his call was transferred to Western Towing. He claimed the first person he spoke to told him he couldn't get the car back because a lien was on the car and the towing company now owned it.

Celestine told Team10 after he told the company about his active duty status their story changed. He said he was told the lien would be removed because of his active duty status.

When asked why he wasn't notified that his car had been towed, Celestine recalled the woman on the phone told him several attempts had been made to find the registered owner, none of them successful.

Celestine claims he was initially told the cost to get his red Porsche back would be $4,200, because the towing company had been storing the vehicle for several months.

Celestine called that amount ridiculous.  "The only reason the car was there was because of the job I'm doing and the job I'm doing is to defend their right to own a business," Celestine said. 

Western Towing agreed to lower the amount to $2,100, Celestine said, but he believes that's still too high.

Team 10 spoke to Michelle Martin, who identified herself as the general manager of Western Towing.  Martin said her company had at least 24 contacts with Celestine about his car.  She said Celestine is "telling a story, but it's the wrong story."  Martin vigorously denied Celestine's claims, saying Western Towing tried to work with him but "nothing is ever good enough."

Martin said Western Towing is the only towing company in San Diego that holds cars for service members, some of them for years. "We have no problem helping the military," she said, adding,  "We do it at great cost to our company."  She shared that many people who run the company have families with military ties, so they eagerly support those who are serving their country.

Martin left Team 10 a voicemail indicating Western Towing would release Celestine's car "free of charge."  It's unclear, as of this posting, whether that is still the case.

A Navy spokesperson told Team 10 Celestine's car shouldn't have been left on the base.  The car wasn't registered to be on base.  "In the eyes of the Navy, it was an abandoned vehicle," she said.  For two months, citations were left on the car.  A Navy search couldn't find the registered owner, so the car was eventually towed.  The spokesperson indicated that sailors can only leave cars on bases where they're stationed.  Celestine's home base is in Guam, not San Diego.

On Friday, Team 10 learned Celestine would get his car back, for free.

The federal government has enacted protections for active duty military personnel.  The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act gives active duty members of the military some leeway when it comes to civil responsibility.  

For more information about assistance for Navy personnel in San Diego who learned their cars were towed click HERE.

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