- Alexandra Seltzer Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Joseph Costa pushed his girlfriend to the ground and jumped into his blue 2011 Chevy Cruze. He revved the engine, backed the car up and drove over her. He drove forward, dragging the woman under the car, witnesses told Boynton Beach police.
Officers had Costa in cuffs, and an attempted murder case. But about two months later they learned they didn’t have a main piece of evidence — the car.
They lost it.
Beck’s Towing & Recovery sold it at auction. The owner said the police department never told them to hold on to it, documents obtained by The Palm Beach Post revealed.
“When you think about it, how do you lose a car?” Costa’s attorney, Michael Salnick, said. “Whoa, where did it go? What happened to it?”
The loss of the car didn’t kill the case. In fact, Costa pleaded guilty in November to attempted second-degree murder and domestic battery for the April 2016 attack. He’ll serve five years in prison . The victim agreed with the sentence.
But the loss highlighted the need to update what a longtime officer called an “antiquated” towing procedure. The department made changes to the rules and opened an internal affairs investigation that resulted in officials issuing a verbal reprimand for unsatisfactory performance to the case’s lead detective, Evelyn McCoy.
McCoy, also known as Evelyn Gorfido, is in her 12th year with Boynton police, the city said.
Police spokeswoman Stephanie Slater said the department updated the towing policies in February and in September. She declined to say if the department has lost track of any other cars.
The towing company’s president, Stephanie Beck, said the company had never experienced such a problem since opening in 1995. She said police did not properly fill out the form that would have notified the company to hold the car.
The company sold the Chevy at auction in June. Documents from Boynton show the car sold for $4,000. Beck would not say who bought it.
After towing the car from the scene to the police department, the towing company moved it days later to Beck’s yard, where police thought the car would be held.
But two towing receipts existed for the Chevy: One indicated the car should be held, and the other didn’t. The towing company had the latter receipt and the police department had the former, records show.
The towing policy didn’t require the detective to update the receipts to tell the towing company the car’s status had changed, reported Scott Harris, an asset forfeiture specialist, who has worked at the department for about 25 years.
“S. Harris advised that we have had this issue going on for a long time and it’s finally become a problem,” the internal affairs investigator wrote. “S. Harris advised that it was a communications error and that someone should have followed through with it.”
Sgt. Jason Llopis worked on the new tow procedures with Harris. He said the tow receipts now have to indicate how many times the vehicle has changed custody and who made the change. It also calls for the towing liaison to have more involvement in holds, towing and storage.
Llopis said he didn’t know what went wrong in this case. Maybe Beck’s had both receipts and decided to use the one that worked more to their benefit, he said. Or, maybe the company was never given the proper form. Either way, the responsibility lay with the lead investigator, McCoy, he said.
In her internal affairs interview, McCoy couldn’t say for sure what happened either but she said she didn’t intentionally make a mistake.
“McCoy said in her mind she thought there was a legitimate hold on the vehicle,” the investigator wrote.
McCoy said she made the call to dispatch to have Beck’s tow the car to the company’s yard. She said she thought that was enough to hold the vehicle. She didn’t remember if she gave the amended tow receipt to the truck driver and said it didn’t occur to her that Beck’s would need a copy of the amended receipt.
While the lost car prompted changes in the department, it probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome had the case gone to trial.
The missing car likely would have been mentioned, Salnick said, “because there was a critical piece of evidence that was lost.” But, he said, “It’s one of those deals where it sounds worse than it is.”
“I don’t think it would have been that fatal because there were two eyewitnesses. In addition to the victim, the neighbors saw it,” he said.