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Parked: Nadia Conseillant wants justice after Osborne towing incident.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Body in Tow

Controversy is nothing new for Joe’s Osborne Street Garage, but dragging a woman across a parking lot may be

 

Nadia Conseillant’s gold Mercedes wasn’t the only thing a driver from Joe’s Osborne Street Garage had in tow Feb. 25 when he took off from a McDonald’s parking lot in Albany. According to Conseillant, the tow-truck driver dragged her across the parking lot, ripping her coat, until she landed stomach-down in a pile of snow. Conseillant laid in the snowbank while the tow-truck driver left the scene.

“It was wrongful what they did to her,” said Ronald Bailey, who witnessed the ordeal. “[The driver] disregarded her safety.”

Although both Bailey and Conseillant said the incident should have incited criminal charges—Conseillant suggested it should be considered a hit-and-run or, perhaps, assault with a deadly weapon—the police report classified the incident as an auto-pedestrian accident.

It took Conseillant about one week to obtain a copy of the report, which she said is incomplete. The report cited pedestrian “error/confusion” as an apparent contributing factor and stated that Conseillant grabbed the bed rails of the tow truck, lost her grip and fell to the ground.

“What pull does this guy have?” Conseillant asked. “I want to know. The police department is not arresting him.”

The man who answered the phone at Osborne Street Garage said he was “not interested” in commenting. The tow company has long been the most controversial in Albany, triggering numerous complaints to city officials and the media over the years for everything from rude truck operators and illegal tows to phsyical assaults on people trying to retrieve their vehicles.

Eric Thompson, a manager at the McDonald’s at Madison Avenue and Pearl Street, was working when the incident occurred. He explained that the fast-food restaurant has a contract with Osborne. McDonald’s employees do not contact the garage about illegally parked cars, but instead, Osborne patrols the lot. When an Osborne driver suspects that a car is illegally parked in the lot, the driver enters McDonald’s and makes an announcement about the vehicle to confirm whether the owner is on the premises or not.

Conseillant said she was in a hurry that Sunday when the incident occurred. It was around 2:30 PM when she pulled into the McDonald’s lot. She planned to grab lunch before heading to work at 3, but first, she said, she and her fiancé had scheduled an appointment to view a studio apartment just across the street.

She said she parked her car and signaled that she’d be right back to the woman at the drive-through window. “I saw the sign,” Conseillant said. “It says, ‘Tow-away. For McDonald’s parking only,’ but that’s why I signaled them.”

Bailey was sitting in his car in the same parking lot waiting for his wife and grandchildren. He saw the tow-truck driver pull into the lot and enter McDonald’s. Bailey said his wife later told him that while the driver was inside he asked patrons to identify their vehicles.

Conseillant said that she was away from her vehicle for only five minutes or so before she returned to the lot to see her car loaded onto the flatbed tow truck.

She said that she argued with the driver about the legality of the tow, telling him he should speak to the McDonald’s manager or that they should call the police. When the driver got into the cab of the truck, Conseillant said she continued to speak with him. The door to the cab was open, and the window was rolled down. “I’m in between the door, and my hand is in the window part,” she explained.

“My hand was in the door, and he started taking off,” she said. “ ‘Pay me,’ [he said], and I told him, ‘no.’ Again he said, ‘Pay me,’ and then he started to take off with me in the car running right beside him.”

Conseillant said she had a grip on something, though she’s not exactly sure what, on the door.

“I was running, and as I was running he realized, I guess, that I didn’t shake off,” she said. “So what he did, he put the car back in reverse. He had to stop the car, I think. I don’t even remember that part, but I saw the car go in reverse and then the door totally got me, but I still had some type of grip because I got dragged. Everybody saw this. I don’t even know if I got caught up in it, I don’t know, but my coat is ripped. I got dragged up and into the snowbank.”

Bailey said it was he who then called the police. “The police came. I gave them a statement. There were a couple other people who gave statements, and the next thing I hear the police are talking about there was no criminal act.”

An ambulance reported to the scene, and Conseillant said that she was taken to the hospital and treated for her pain.

“He’s an animal,” she said of the tow-truck driver. “Somebody needs to get that man off the street. What is the deal with him? What’s the problem here? They should be making an arrest.”

Conseillant said she plans to retain a lawyer and hopes to go to court over the matter. She doesn’t plan to retrieve her car from Joe’s garage until the matter is resolved in court.

“With the shenanigans that he’s pulling,” she said, “I’m scared to get it.”

—Nicole Klaas

nklaas@metroland.net


What a Week

From Russia, With Love

Just days after telling Dateline NBC that the Kremlin was sending a message to its critics that they will be silenced “in the most horrible way possible,” Paul Joyal, an American media analyst and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was shot in the groin outside of his Maryland home. Joyal, who four days earlier had told Dateline NBC he believed the Russian government was behind the fatal poisoning of a former KGB agent, survived the attack. Meanwhile, in Moscow, respected journalist Ivan Safranov mysteriously fell from the fifth floor of his apartment building and died, making him the 14th Russian journalist to die under suspicious circumstances since Putin took office in 2000.

The Fall Guy

After deliberating for 10 days, the jury in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby found Libby guilty on four out of five charges. Libby faces up to 25 years in prison and a fine of $1 million. Libby’s lawyers announced that if they are not granted a new trial they will appeal the current decision. Meanwhile, jurors in the case said that they found their decision difficult, as they felt Libby was simply “the fall guy.” Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald announced that his investigation into the Valerie Plame case is finished.

Spiked

David Soares’ Miami steroid bust has grabbed national headlines this past week as connections were made between the steroid ring and famous national athletes. Athletes so far implicated as possible customers include Olympic and WWE wrestler Kurt Angle and former baseball player Jose Canseco. When Sports Illustrated called a number attached to the file for a customer named Evan Fields, the man who answered just happened to be boxer Evander Holyfield.

I like a you! Don’t Opress me!

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released a human-rights report this week that criticizes Kazakhstan for its increased restrictions on free speech. One of victims of the Kazakh crackdown just happens to be a fictional resident of the country—everyone’s favorite Kazakh reporter, Borat Sagdiyev. The report criticizes Kazakhstan for censoring Borat’s Web site, www.borat.kz. A Kazakh official threatened to take legal action if Sasha Baron Cohen, the man behind Borat, did not take the site down. Cohen, who is Jewish, responded in character, announcing, “I . . . fully support my government’s position to sue this Jew!”



The Cola Wars

Citing human-rights abuses, student and labor groups unite in an attempt to remove Coca-Cola products from UAlbany

“In Colombia, you could get killed for organizing a union,” said Manuel Ortiz. “[Colombia has] the highest rate of assassinations and murders of trade unionists anywhere in the world. Coca-Cola knows what’s going on, and they’re just trying to ignore the situation.”

Ortiz is a member of the local chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, which joined forces last Thursday (March 1) with local student and labor groups to support Killer Coke, a campaign led by longtime labor organizer Ray Rogers. Killer Coke alledges that Coca-Cola has has turned a blind eye to the brutal crackdown by paramilitary forces on union organizing efforts at their bottling plants in Colombia. The campaign aims to remove Coca-Cola products from college campuses by making students aware of the company’s neglect for human rights abroad.

Locally, they are focusing on the University at Albany, which has an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola to sell Coke, Sprite, Vault, Fanta, Nestea, Minute Maid juices, and Dasani water.

The event was sponsored by University Auxiliary Services, which has the contract with Coca-Cola and handles various other UAlbany student services. UAS executive director Julia Filippone said that they want to present a variety of viewpoints in keeping with the university’s goal of being a “marketplace of ideas,” and that is why Rogers was brought in.

“We encourage students to be responsible about their information,” she said.

When he was first approached about Coca-Cola’s record, Rogers said that the accusations seemed to be “off the wall,” but after investigating and uncovering numerous cases where employees of Coca-Cola bottling companies had been murdered by paramilitary forces for trying to unionize, Rogers’ organization, Corporate Campaign Inc., adopted the cause.

“We made a commitment that we would get involved,” he said. “We’re going to put a stop to what’s happening in Colombia.”

Rogers said that the campaign has gotten Coke products removed from 34 schools—most in the United States, but some in England, Ireland, Canada, and Italy, including some large universities like New York University and Rutgers.

The student groups have set an arbitrary deadline of March 27 for UAlbany to sever their contract with Coke, which expires in 2008. Jackie Hayes, a UAlbany doctoral student interning with the Killer Coke campaign, said that the students plan to make phone calls to university officials, protest outside administration buildings, and finally deliver to the administration, “preferably in a wheelbarrow,” all the evidence of Coke’s abuses.

The students groups said that it would be ideal for the university to deal with multiple companies instead of one exclusive contract. Hayes said that supporting local businesses would be a good choice. “It’s a lot easier, I think, to hold local companies accountable, because it’s really difficult when you find out a company like Coca-Cola is committing these human-rights and environmental abuses—they’re impenetrable,” she said. “They put a lot of money between themselves and their customers, and so there’s really no way to hold them accountable for anything that they’re doing.”

“I don’t know if [local companies] can meet our needs,” said Filippone, needs that include 200 vending machines, more than 50 fountain mixes, and sales of 1.5 million bottles per year. But she said that, while bidding on the contract has yet to begin, bids will be accepted from any party and that local companies are not out of the question.

The Killer Coke press conference and panel discussion Thursday drew a crowd of about 35. Hayes said that a lot of students aren’t even aware of the fact that UAlbany has an exclusive contract with Coke, let alone that the company has a poor human-rights record. “I think a lot of it is that people haven’t heard what’s going on,” Hayes said, “because Coca-Cola does a really good job at fighting that getting out and puts so much money into public relations.”

Ray Rogers agreed. “You have to understand that Coca-Cola is a company that spends billions of dollars a year—about 3 billion dollars a year, actually—in advertising to create an image or a reality that has nothing to do with the ugly reality that is the company.”

That reality, according to Rogers, is the kidnapping, torture, and murder of union organizers by paramilitary forces. Rogers detailed the accusations during the panel, describing environmental abuses as well. He said that he would like to debate Coca-Cola representatives directly, but that they will not debate him. By the end, his lecture took on a decidedly anti-corporate tone, and Rogers suggested that perhaps they could take on ExxonMobil next.

—David Canfield





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