Shawn Villines, part owner of Tim’s Auto Body in Van Buren, Ark., started ASAP Towing as a response to an accident he worked “several months ago.”
“The whole thing started with a pregnant woman, carload of kids, sitting at a stoplight,” Villines said. “The car was struck from behind by a girl, 22 or 23 years old, who plowed into them going 50 or 60 miles per hour. Put the trunk in the back seat because she decided to drive home drunk.”
Villines said the accident yielded no casualties, but as he watched the “ambulance workers working on the kids,” he thought, “there’s got to be a way to eliminate part of this at least.”
This incident led him to launch ASAP (Always Say a Prayer) in March 2012, and since that time, Villines says he’s served “around 10 to 15” customers every weekend, and he soon hopes to expand the business into Northwest Arkansas.
Villines charges customers in Fort Smith, Van Buren, and Barling, $50 per tow, and that includes the customer and their vehicle.
“Most people don’t want to leave their car and chance it getting broken in to, and that’s a big reason why people do drink and drive,” Villines said.
Since launch, Villines said he’s had some “colorful clients,” including “one guy, who calls me every weekend, tells me what bar he’ll be at and to pick him up at midnight.”
“The best tows are hauling someone that’s drunk through a roadblock. You pull through there, and it makes for a comical moment, because they’re kind of nervous and drunk. But now that the police knows what we’re doing, they waive us on through, and it sets in (for the customer) there’s nothing to worry about,” Villines said.
Villines credits the Van Buren and Fort Smith police departments for the support they’ve shown, noting one particular incident where a customer decided “he didn’t want to pay. I saw a cop in the Central Mall parking lot and told him we’d pull in and let him explain why he wasn’t going to. He settled down really quick.”
“Had another guy, who forgot where he lived, so I called (Fort Smith) police with a tag number. They gave me his address, and away we went.”
For the most part, however, Villines said most of his experiences have been positive.
“The customers are usually all about cutting up and carrying on. The good time doesn’t end just because they’re going home. They’re usually all about it, all the way back to the house. I’ve also had people want me to drive them around from one bar to another, and call me when they’re ready to go.”
Villines said many of his customers budget his service as part of their night out, and bar owners have been especially appreciative.
“I’ve gotten a lot of calls from the owners saying thanks, because it takes a lot of liability off of them, it really does. Just adds to the several options they have for offering customers a chance to get home.”
Villines said he gets many calls from patrons of the Electric Cowboy in Fort Smith, but if he had to pinpoint his busiest area, “it would be the bars on Garrison Avenue” in downtown Fort Smith.
NORTHWEST ARKANSAS EXPANSION
The towing charge helps Villines cover the “$300 worth of fuel we burn every weekend. When diesel is $4 per gallon, and the wrecker only gets four miles per gallon, it can get expensive,” he admits.
The wrecker costs “around $40,000,” and Villines said he plans to expand to the Northwest Arkansas as soon as he can add another wrecker to his inventory.
Time for that expansion could be right.
Media representatives from the Fayetteville and Rogers police departments say, “there is nothing else like it” in the region, “other than taxicab services endorsed by local establishments,” added Sergeant Tim Franklin of the Fayetteville Police Department.
But for Villines, there’s a more important purpose than business for doing what he does.
“Good part of the reason we started this was for my kids. A lot of people disagree with this, but I take my kids on the DWIs (driving while intoxicated calls). They need to see the realities of life, because they’re going to deal with it at some point, whether it’s getting in the car with a friend from school, or a friend’s parent, who’s been drinking, right down to ‘buzzed driving’ themselves. They need to know the end result.”
Villines notes that most of the criticism he’s received has been of the “kids don’t need to be exposed to it” variety. But for the father of three — 16- and 7-year old boys and an 11-year old girl — the object lesson is too important to pass up.
“That’s something you can preach all day long, but when you pull up and there are three kids on stretchers with neck braces because one girl decided she’d have too much to drink and get behind the wheel of a car, that puts a whole new perspective on things. To me, hopefully, it will have a bigger effect than Dad saying, ‘Don’t do this, or you’re going to jail.’”