An officer who handled the crash failed to check the vehicle before it was towed, said Martin Flask, Cleveland's safety director. The police department is reviewing the case.
Emil Azzam, 50, of Lakewood, died instantly from head and neck injuries when his car crashed on Friday on a snowy roadway, the Cuyahoga County coroner ruled.
The car was not far from a multivehicle accident, and witnesses had described Azzam's car as an abandoned vehicle, police said.
But the family said paramedics found the phone number of a friend of Azzam's in the car and notified him of the crash. The family rushed to the hospital that the paramedic had mentioned to the friend, but Azzam never arrived, said Victoria Green, his sister-in-law.
"It was like he vanished from Earth," she said. "We had been searching for him for two days."
Relatives are "outraged" and plan to sue the city, said John Lemieux, their lawyer.
Police did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking further response to the family's account.
Dennis Allen, co-owner of Parma Towing, said the company was asked to perform an emergency tow so the road could be cleared. He wouldn't say if the driver looked in the car before it was towed.
Lemieux said an insurance adjuster also arrived at the accident scene Friday and saw Azzam in the car. He said no medical care was attempted because Azzam was dead, but the insurance adjuster did tell rescuers about the body.
Azzam's family filed a missing person's report, traced his vehicle to the impounded car lot and found the body Sunday. He was still holding a burned-out cigarette in his hand, his family said.
Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com