Emergency Roadside Assistance
September 8, 2003 7:30 PM   Subscribe

"One call to AAA and your worries are over," says the brochure. That's what Melissa Gosule's family thought, but she was kidnapped and murdered during the hours it took for AAA to get its act together. So the family is suing. Do they have a case? After all, she's not the only one who's waited and waited and waited and waited for multiple hours after calling AAA. I oughta know. [more inside]
posted by soyjoy (23 comments total)
About ten years ago I canceled my AAA account after their incompetence left me stranded and freezing on an overpass in Old City Philadelphia from 1:00 am to 5:30 am (dead alternator). So I obviously can't be objective about this. How bout you? Had any experiences with auto clubs that might be relevant to this case? It's tricky, because 1) she willingly left a safe, populated area and 2) she wasn't actually a member, her father was. And of course we could find web postings from disgruntled customers for just about any company on earth. But is it, perhaps, a little more serious when what you pay for is supposed to guard against exactly this lethal scenario?
posted by soyjoy at 7:32 PM on September 8, 2003

While I understand the pain and horror of the family, the "sensible" side of me says that this is completely ridiculous. AAA is a roadside assistance service - NOT a bodyguard, NOT a protector, NOT the police. I'm sure in their marketing materials, contracts, etc, there is some reference to a tow-truck being dispatched and arriving as soon as possible - NOT as soon as there is a hint of danger. What happened is a very sad, terrible thing - but I don't think that AAA is responsible in any way. The cold-blooded, murderous son-of-a-bitch who is now locked up for life is the only one responsible.
posted by davidmsc at 7:38 PM on September 8, 2003

so, the AAA guy could very well have ended up dead, had he been on time -- should his family then have sued the Gosules in that event?
posted by dorian at 7:41 PM on September 8, 2003

While it is true that if the truck had arrived sooner she may have lived, it doesn't matter. AAA is not a guard service and it is not their responsibility to protect you from criminals. The family shouldn't get a cent from them.

Of course this is all ignoring something very important: Ms. Gosule used her killer's cell phone to call for help. Even if AAA had arrived within a "reasonable" time, he still may have killed her.
posted by punishinglemur at 7:45 PM on September 8, 2003

. . . arrived at the parking lot about 90 minutes later. . . . Cubellis told Gosule he was busy and it would be three to four hours before he could take her or her car to Boston, about 60 miles away.

I don't get this -- the tow truck driver took the trouble to drive to her car, only to tell her he was too busy to do anything? That's doesn't make much sense.
posted by JanetLand at 7:50 PM on September 8, 2003

you gotta get the good AAA membership to get better response times or so I've heard. my standard membership grants me a 2 hour waiting period every time i call them. it's gotten to be such a hassle the last 2 times, i don't think i'll renew or bother again.
posted by shadow45 at 8:02 PM on September 8, 2003

so, the AAA guy could very well have ended up dead, had he been on time -- should his family then have sued the Gosules in that event?

Yeah, good point, since meeting up with different strangers on every call isn't an occupational hazard of his profession, and since he had previously paid the family to get him out of just such a jam. Great analogy.
posted by soyjoy at 8:05 PM on September 8, 2003

i worked as a dispatcher for a garage for many years. AAA is a fine organization, it is the individual contractors whom are to blame.....blame. It has been my experience that no less then 70% of wrecker drivers carry guns. So this poor woman might be alive today. If wrecker calls are forgotten or shifted around to much, AAA will cancel your contract, so they do have some form of control if a service provider is not doing there job. It is a tough business, many wrecker drivers get killed each year and during snow storms, unless the customer was stranded we would tell the customer..."two days" in a severe snow situation.

my pet peeve was the person who would call 4 different stations in order to get faster service which ultimately fails.

I once had a call from AAA that a lady had her car parked in the middle of the freeway, my driver was at least 20 minutes away and the AAA operator said "well who do i call"
I told to her to call 911.

once had a husband call, pleading in a unconvincing manner, to give preference to his wife whom was stuck in down town flint. What puzzled me was that he was at home and minutes away....why did he not go to protect his wife?....seems natural to me.
nope, the guy used his wifes supposed vulnerability in order to get faster service.

you see it all, thieves trying to get a car towed that is not theirs, twisted wrecks that make one cringe.

Car trouble is distressing and it should be the wrecker drivers job to help ease these worries.

i have unlocked cars with babies inside and the look on the mothers face is a gambit of emotions...the best thing to do is smile and unlock that car. That is a reward in itself.

the best call i had was a flat tire call from an older couple. I was there in 10 minutes, had them on the road in ten more.

Cubellis told Gosule he was busy and it would be three to four hours before he could take her or her car to Boston, about 60 miles away.

this is standard if the driver has calls ahead other calls that came in before BUT....

The Gosule family says Cubellis did not try to start the young woman's car, make sure she was taken to a safe location or call another AAA driver to help.

this is not standard, the car should have been towed back to the garage first, then to boston. calling for another wrecker is also standard....so in my view someone is negligent and AAA could be held accountable.

AAA says Gosule could have taken a taxi or had a family member come pick her up.
this should have happened too.
posted by clavdivs at 8:23 PM on September 8, 2003

Gosule then accepted a ride from Gentile.

I feel really bad for her family, but it's hardly AAA's fault that she got into a car with a stranger. I don't really see how there's any way AAA is responsible for this. They may be responsible for not honouring their contract or whatever, but they're not responsible for her death - you don't accept rides from strangers, especially if you're a woman.
posted by biscotti at 8:45 PM on September 8, 2003

what's most disturbing about this case is that Gentile (the rapist/murderer) was present from the start, allowing the victim to call on his cell phone, hanging out and waiting 90 minutes for the tow truck to arrive, and then offering her a ride, and during that entire time he must have been planning her abduction & rape, if not her abduction, rape & murder, and yet she still got no vibe of threat or danger from the bastard. I've never spoken with someone who was sexually assaulted in any manner, let alone by someone they chatted with casually for a while first, but I can only guess he was a fantastically good cover artist, projecting friendliness, compassion and assistance over deep reserves of homicidal evil. Sad, and more than a little disturbing. That said, this is in no way AAA's fault.
posted by jonson at 8:50 PM on September 8, 2003

On the lighter side (i.e. no rape and murder) here is Click and Clack's take on the subject. For what it's worth, my mother used AAA locally (she drives all over the country alone at the age of 70ish and that was the only time she needed roadside assistance) and the tow truck arrived within a half hour with a polite driver. I told her (and she did) to tip him an extra $20 or so.
posted by TedW at 9:02 PM on September 8, 2003

While I understand the pain and horror... NOT a protector, NOT the police

If it helps, the SCOTUS has said that it is not the job of the police to protect you either.

And in some states, self defense is not a reason for you applying lethal force when attacked/threatened.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:10 PM on September 8, 2003

while i'm sorry for what happened to the woman, it isn't aaa's fault.

if anything, general motors and its pontiac division should be named in the suit. after all, if the car would have started like it should she would have not needed aaa.
posted by birdherder at 9:14 PM on September 8, 2003

For what it's worth, I agree that AAA is probably not at fault legally.

I just reeeeally want to see the bastards suffer.
posted by soyjoy at 9:34 PM on September 8, 2003

I'm happy to see bad things happen to AAA. If only as payback for all their secretive anti-environmental lobbying efforts. Very, very few AAA members know what AAA is doing on their behalf.

That said, yeah, the lawsuit makes no sense, and should be dismissed.
posted by malphigian at 9:37 PM on September 8, 2003

I know what AAA is doing with my $100. But I don't care. I just want to know that next time my car breaks down in the middle of a road trip, and I don't know the name of a town within 50 miles, let alone the name of a tow truck company, I have someone I can call who will figure it out for me.

In the decade I've been a member, I have called AAA six times. Not once has it taken longer than 30 minutes to have a tow truck to my location. But I've heard some pretty bad service stories from friends.
posted by obfusciatrist at 11:21 PM on September 8, 2003

"One call to AAA and your worries are over" sounds vaguely menacing now. Melissa Gosule will certainly never worry about anything again.
posted by kindall at 11:34 PM on September 8, 2003

The AAA driver was negligent in failing to do a basic check of the car, but the ultimate choice to leave with Gentile was Melissa Gosule's and that ultimate choice was the wrong one. I feel terribly for her family and know that they are grieving and hurt, but that doesn't change the fact that AAA isn't responsible for their daughter's death.

I gave up AAA after they left me sitting for four hours on a busy but unlit road as darkness fell on a chilly night in the late fall. Because it was unsafe for me to even try to get out of my car, I had no choice but to wait for the service truck to come with reflectors and flares which would allow me a better chance of getting out without getting killed. Being unfamiliar with my surroundings at the time, I was exceedingly distressed when the tow truck delivered me and my car to a service station about 1/3 of a mile from where I had broken down.
posted by Dreama at 2:35 AM on September 9, 2003

How do we know that she willingly got into the car with Gosule? The article says it, but there's nothing to back up the statement - he could have grabbed her, against her will.
posted by JamieStar at 6:17 AM on September 9, 2003

What I can't get over is how poorly the killer thought things through -- not only did he let her use his cell phone (which was certain to come up in the investigation), but he called one of his own friends to come and help, so that two different people saw him with the victim. I don't expect genius of most criminals, but c'mon, that's just lazy.

Still doesn't excuse the victim for not springing for a cab.
posted by Epenthesis at 7:05 AM on September 9, 2003

I've been a AAA member since I started driving. It's come in handy more times than I can count and they've always been very responsive. I had no idea that their role as a lobbying organizaztion was so nasty... although, in retrospect it makes perfect sense. There are plenty of other roadside assistance joints these days. I'll probably be making a switch, and will look for one that strives to protect people in bad situations as well.
posted by maniactown at 9:34 AM on September 9, 2003

Timely post for me personally, since I just had my own massive incompetence problem with AAA last weekend. I spent all day waiting for their help -- seven seperate attempts at getting aid because they kept "having problems." They couldn't find me, their phones were messing up, they couldn't get what state I was in correctly, etc. They tried to blame the wrecker for not being able to find me even though I was sitting on a state road, at a major intersection, next to a major local business, and sitting right underneath a sign telling me exactly how many miles away from the nearest town I was. After call #3 I was promised a supervisor was going to work on the case until it was fixed, which I was told after call #7 had never happened, because they "didn't do that." And I had my mother with me the whole time, which just ratched up the frustration level.

They never did help me. After my cell phone's charge (three hours) was exhuasted, I had to find my own way out. 24 hours later, I finally got home, when I'd have been there in five had they bothered to show up.

The best part? Well, aside from that fact that I'm one of their "gold" members who supposedly gets "special attention," it turned out the wrecker they claimed to have called was only a couple blocks away. They could, literally, see me from their front window... had they ever been called in the first place.
posted by frallyth at 9:36 AM on September 9, 2003

Something we seem to have lost site of is the fact that, it's an ugly world. Bad things happen, life can get uncomfortable and dangerous and sometimes there isn't a tidy scapegoat. Sometimes there just isn't any logical person to sue. Sometimes you fall down and bump your knee and you can't sue gravity or god or the sidewalk contractor for making concrete so goshdarn HARD.

Of course it's not AAA's "fault". No one is to blame but the man who killed her. He's in prison for life. Case closed.
posted by glenwood at 2:32 PM on September 9, 2003

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