Disrespect for the handicapped and the law is more common in Lubbock than you might think. On a daily basis, people in Lubbock completely disregard handicap parking laws. They park on lines that are clearly reserved for loading and unloading wheelchairs. They park in regular handicap spots with no handicap plates or placards showing. Speaking of placards, they find many ways to abuse them. All the while they're forgetting they should be counting their blessings.
17-year-old Chris Hefner has no problem maneuvering through the halls of Lubbock High School, but maneuvering through Lubbock parking lots can be another story. When he finds someone parked illegally in a handicap spot, one word can describe how he feels: angry.
Since he can remember, Bealls Palsy has forced Chris to spend most of his time in a wheelchair. He tells NewsChannel 11 he sees handicap parking abuse almost every day. Chris says, "They'll say well I'm just dropping someone off. They do not care. They do not see the fact that they're inconveniencing someone and they don't really care."
Though she may not appear handicapped, respiratory problems make it impossible for Adrienne Nichols to walk long distances. She also sees abuse of handicap parking first hand. She says, "It's been a real problem. It's disrespectful when people do that."
But it happens everyday in Lubbock. People can't resist the urge, and the need for convenience prevails over morality. Sergeant Ronnie Sowell of the Lubbock Police Department says, "We have a large number of folks who are illegally using disable parking spaces."
In fact, over the last three years, Lubbock parking control officers have issued an average of 2,500 disabled parking citations per year, and that's just the ones they catch. Sergeant Sowell ventures a guess that for every one caught, there are five more who aren't. He says, "It's not comical, it's not at all humorous."
We at NewsChannel 11 set out to see for ourselves just how easy it is to find people abusing handicap parking and we didn't have to look far. In one small parking area alone, we found two violators. We approached the first and asked if he was going to move. He said he was and that he had no idea he was in a handicap spot. The driver quickly moved after we approached him, but apparently a spot, not far away was the permanent home of a maintenance vehicle. We asked two maintenance men why they parked in a handicap spot. They replied "We always have. The men admitted they knew the spot is reserved for the handicapped, but when we asked if they were going to move the truck, they said "You'd have to talk to them inside about that." One hour later, NewsChannel 11 went back to see if the truck had been moved, but there it sat.
That's why Lubbock has six parking control officers. Four of them are beat officers and two make rounds across the entire city like Officer Katy Gordon. It's Officer Gordon's mission every day to crack down on those who disregard handicap parking laws. She says, "The hospital district, all of our medical buildings all of our doctor's offices they're all bad for violations."
Officer Gordon issues an average of eight to ten handicap parking violations per day. She has little mercy and she's heard every excuse in the book. Officer Gordon explains, "Everything from 'I was only here a minute,' to 'Well, I left it at home."
Sergeant Sowell says, "It's not worth the $250 bucks. Besides that, it's probably one of the most inconsiderate things you can do is park in disable parking."
Chris Hefner knows exactly what he would say to someone who does, "I would tell them be thankful you have the ability you can run in somewhere." Adrienne Nichols agrees. She says, "I would love to be like I used to and park way out in the South 40 and walk that far and most handicap people we'd give our parking spaces just to be like everyone else."
As Sergeant Sowell said, it's a $250 fine the first time you're caught illegally parking in a handicapped spot and the fines only go up from there. To be fair, even the disabled community is part of the problem at times. It's common for a handicapped person to let someone else use their placard. It is also illegal for the disabled person to stay in the car while someone else goes inside.
You can get a handicapped placard legally at your local tax assessor's office. First, you must get a doctor's note. That note must be signed by the doctor and notarized or written on the doctor's prescription pad.