A woman’s death during a AAA tow truck call earlier this week in Plains Township has been ruled a homicide by the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office.
Meanwhile, AAA Mid-Atlantic on Wednesday suspended the company, Herbert’s Towing in Wilkes-Barre, that it dispatched to assist 55-year-old Denise Polinchak for a vehicle problem in the parking lot of the Social Security Administration building.
The company said Herbert’s was suspended for a previous, unrelated matter pertaining to background and driving record checks for employees.
Police said Polinchak died from injuries she sustained when a tow truck driver for Herbert’s reversed her vehicle and struck her with an open door around 6 p.m. Monday. The tow truck driver, Robert Wickham, 55, of Dallas, was arrested for the suspicion of driving under the influence after “police detected signs of alcohol impairment,” police said.
Polinchak died Tuesday from multiple traumatic injuries and her death was ruled homicide, said Luzerne County Chief Deputy Coroner William Lisman.
“AAA Mid-Atlantic is saddened by the circumstances surrounding the accident and expresses sincere condolences to the family of Ms. Denise Polinchak on their loss,” said AAA spokeswoman Jana Tidwell. “Since all facts are not yet available, we will not speculate on the details of this tragic accident. We will be cooperating with any law-enforcement investigations and will await their findings before commenting further on the accident.”
The organization said it suspended Herbert’s Towing from providing AAA service due to a “possible breach” of the company’s independent contractor agreement due to a matter not related to the fatal incident.
Herbert’s has had a 30-year affiliation with AAA and averages approximately 500 calls for service each month for AAA, the organization said. Officials for AAA said 80 percent of AAA members requesting assistance said they were “totally satisfied” in their experience with Herbert’s.
Police said Polinchak was critically injured shortly after she called AAA for help with her vehicle.
Investigators say Wickham was attempting to reverse the woman’s vehicle from a parking stall when Polinchak was struck by an open driver’s side door. Polinchak sustained critical injuries and died a day later in Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township, police said.
Tidwell confirmed that AAA Mid-Atlantic received a call on March 7 at 4:50 p.m. from Polinchak for assistance and AAA subsequently dispatched Herbert’s towing. Herbert’s is one of several AAA independent contractors in Luzerne County, Tidwell said.
Tidwell said that once accepted as an independent contractor for AAA, each contractor must annually certify they have conducted background checks for felony and misdemeanor convictions going back 25 years, as well as annual motor vehicle and driving records checks for all drivers providing roadside assistance to AAA members.
Herbert’s most recently submitted certification on January 19, 2011, stating that it was in full compliance with those and other contractual requirements, Tidwell said.
As a matter of course, AAA Mid-Atlantic terminates any independent contractor that fails to meet their contractual obligations, she said.
In Wednesday’s edition, The Citizens’ Voice reported that the fatal incident in Plains Township was the second run-in a Herbert’s Towing driver had with Plains Township police in recent weeks. On Feb. 28, an officer observed a Herbert’s tow-truck traveling on East Carey Street without any rear tail lights illuminated and the officer stopped the vehicle because he couldn’t see the registration plate.
A records check of the driver, Donald Mosley, 40, of Wilkes-Barre, indicated that his driver’s license was suspended and the Luzerne County Sheriff’s Department had a warrant for his arrest for failure to appear in court on several theft cases, according to Plains police.
Police also noted Herbert’s recently purchased the tow-truck, but never registered the title with the state.
Mosley was jailed and the tow-truck was towed from the scene, police said.
Officials for Herbert’s declined comment when a reporter visited the Kidder Street business on Wednesday.
Polinchak’s obituary appears today on page 27.
Posted by Cyndi Kight, Associate Editor of Towing and Recovery Footnotes