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St. Petersburg cracks down on handicapped parking violators at Trop

ST. PETERSBURG — First he said it was his disabled parking permit — even though it was issued to a woman.

Then he said it was his wife's permit — but they had different last names. Finally he said it belonged to her ill ex-husband. They use it to take him to the doctor.

Only they weren't at the doctor Tuesday night. The Red Sox fan in the Hummer H3 was at Tropicana Field for the Tampa Bay-Boston game.

Welcome to the World Series of Excuses.

The members of the St. Petersburg Police Department's volunteer road patrol heard all kinds as they busted parking scofflaws left and right before the first pitch.

Except there is no excuse for using someone else's placard to park in a disabled spot. The permits are issued to people, not vehicles. And that person better be inside the vehicle when the ignition is turned off, otherwise it's a $258 fine.

Why would someone who can walk steal a parking spot from someone who can't?

"I think they just don't care," said St. Petersburg Officer Tonia Nave.

• • •

Nave is the coordinator for the department's road patrol volunteers — many of whom are senior citizens.

Nave is backup in case someone doesn't believe the white-haired gentleman in the uniform can, in fact, give them a ticket.

The Trop has 160 disabled parking spots. Last year police learned just how badly people were abusing those spots. Of the 144 placards the city seized in 2009, 67 were from people parking illegally at the Trop. "I was surprised how bad it was all over, to be honest," Nave said.

The state issues a disabled placard to anyone whose physician can certify that they need a device to help them walk; or if they require a wheelchair; or if they suffer from respiratory or cardiac conditions; or if they cannot walk due to arthritic, neurological or orthopedic conditions.

If police end up seizing a placard that someone legitimately needs, that person will have to apply for another.

• • •

The patrol hit the Trop parking lot around 4:30 p.m. It was slow going at first. By 6 p.m. it was game on.

Most of the scofflaws were polite, professing they didn't know what they were doing was illegal. Others were not so polite.

Addison Lesser, 79, was using the placard of his wife, who died last year. He said he has diabetes and carried his medical kit into the Trop. "Diabetics have trouble walking, too," he said.

But if that's the case, he'll need to apply for his own placard.

"I will never come to (see) the Rays again," said the Sarasota man. "This is the greatest rip-off I've ever seen."

He also vowed to report the volunteer who ticketed him.

"That man is an authoritarian Hitler," he said.

That man, volunteer Domenick Murano, 74, said he has heard worse. "But that's not for print," he said, chuckling.

Officer Nave and her volunteers seized 14 placards and issued 14 citations in about two hours Tuesday. She kept track of excuses she heard in case the drivers challenge the citations in court. She rattled them off as she flipped through her notebook.

"Father's in the hospital … dead wife … missing companion … uncle … wife … mother in Cincinnati … mother-in-law," said Nave. "My favorite is the woman who said it was a friend of a friend of a friend."

Don Baker, 77, has a disabled permit because of a spinal injury he suffered in Vietnam. The Navy Seabee said he was hurt in combat during the Tet Offensive in 1968 at the Battle of Hue.

The Boston fan likes to watch his Red Sox at the Trop because it's so much cheaper here (parking's $100 at Fenway). As he retracted his van's wheelchair ramp, he said he can't stand to see disabled parking spots abused. And that goes for his own family, too.

"It p----- me off," he said. "My own brother even does it."

St. Petersburg cracks down on handicapped parking violators at Trop 05/25/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 11:34pm]
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