Two Women Rule at 3 Kings Collision

Two Women Rule at 3 Kings Collision


Tammy Sonnenberg, a 20 year old who runs 3 Kings Collision with her sister, Jonna.  Photo Courtesy of Tammy Sonnenberg

Tammy Sonnenberg, a 20-year-old who runs 3 Kings Collision with her sister Jonna.
Photo Courtesy of Tammy Sonnenberg

When Tammy and Jonna Sonnenberg lost their father John a year ago, Tammy was 19 and thinking about becoming a bartender. Big sister Jonna had already started helping her dad in his towing business while she went to school to work on a degree in English. She began riding with her father after he teased that she should help him to pay for her degree.

“It started out as a joke. I used to spend a lot of time with my father. I didn’t see myself in the business – I was just helping him to pay for tuition,” said Jonna, now 25. “I took it as a challenge. I went out, got my licenses, and said, OK, teach me.”

Tammy and Jonna Sonnenberg in one of their tow trucks.   Photo Courtesy of Tammy Sonnenberg

Tammy and Jonna Sonnenberg in one of their tow trucks. Photo Courtesy of Tammy Sonnenberg

Jonna and Tammy are now co-owners of 3 Kings Collision, an Ozone Park-based towing business that’s been in operation for over 30 years. In fact, the young women don’t just own the business. They are also the sole truck drivers and administrators there, since their brother John, 22, recently stopped running the office. (A fourth sibling, Amber, who’s 24, chose a different career path as well.)

About a month before “Big” John Sonnenberg died, he made another joke about Tammy joining the business instead of getting her bartender’s license. At the time she didn’t take it seriously, or as a challenge, the way Jonna had – but after he was gone she decided she wanted to help keep his memory alive.

“I wanted to make him proud. I wanted to take the business and make it amazing. A lot of older people in the community didn’t want us to take it over. That motivated me to keep it running,” she said.

In addition to occasionally sensing a lack of support, the young women have also sometimes felt “unsafe.” Tammy told one story of a drunk man who jumped into her truck and another of someone who tried to drive away with his car already hooked. Jonna, who used to work late nights with her father, is wary of sketchy neighborhoods. “If something’s off, I won’t pull over,” she said. Tammy, who drives the flatbed, always takes a friend when she travels at night or too far from southern Queens, while Jonna stays closer to home and prefers the smaller truck.

They’ve also encountered a plentitude of cynicism, sometimes chauvinism, and the occasional “dirty comment.” Customers often assume they’re “just” drivers and ask to speak to the boss or manager. There are those that assume they are weak or pushovers and try to haggle over pricing. “We won’t drop your car unless you’ve paid,” says Tammy.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl,” says Jonna. “As long as you follow all of the safety procedures, you can do this job. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.”

“It’s a lot of stress,” says Tammy. “I’m on call 24 hours a day. I can’t leave the neighborhood or hang out with my friends on a Friday night.” Tammy, a self-described “girlie girl” with a nice manicure and perfectly coiffed blond hair, seems conflicted about her long-term career goals; she’d like to go to college at some point. The two young women do not yet make a salary, and the business has just begun to break even after a truly difficult period subsequent to their father’s death, in which 3 Kings was left in debt and floundering. There were other challenges as well.

“People underestimated us and thought they could take advantage of our inexperience. But when I feel something’s not right, I check into it. I’m not going to put myself in jeopardy for anybody,” said Jonna, referring to other jealous tow truck drivers who tried to manipulate the women into managing the business inappropriately. “I’m a little skinny girl in a tow truck, but my dad taught me well.”

As did their mother, Wilma, who stepped into the interview occasionally — held in a large living room lined with collectible dolls — to clarify facts. Wilma (the dolls’ owner) is a police officer roughly three years away from retirement. She hasn’t decided yet if she will help her daughters at that point, but it is clear that she has a great deal of faith and pride in their talents. She described her late husband as an extremely “hard worker” who left no life insurance policy when he passed away unexpectedly last year at the age of 51.

Jonna Sonnenberg, co-owner of 3 Kings Collision, with her late father, John Sonnenberg.  Photo Courtesy of Tammy Sonnenberg

Jonna Sonnenberg, co-owner of 3 Kings Collision, with her late father, John Sonnenberg.
Photo Courtesy of Tammy Sonnenberg

It’s still hard for Jonna to go out on calls because she used to do it with her dad, and she keeps expecting to see him there. Sometimes she arrives to pick up a vehicle and can’t hold back her tears. Despite her small frame and emotional vulnerability when it comes to talking about her father, Jonna is no withering violet. “I drive just like him. I know the neighborhood like the back of my hand. When he passed, everyone was looking at me. I was kind of scared, but then Tammy said ‘we can do it together.’ Now I do it for my dad and my little sister.”

Tammy, at only 20 years old, does seem to carry herself with an air of someone older. She’s a bit of a paradox. Not only does she drive the big flatbed, but she also handles all marketing for the business. “People say we should have our own reality show,” she said. Both women referred to positive “girl power” feedback they’ve received, mostly from other young women, when they go out on jobs.

After conferring with her mother, Tammy had reached Jonna at a number that was once their father’s, and as this writer concluded the speakerphone interview, she looked down to read “Daddy” on the iPhone screen.

With two tough-as-nails women working to uphold their father’s legacy, and the close-knit family behind them, it’s not hard to envision what a success 3 Kings Collision has the potential to once again become.


By Eugénie Bisulco


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