Parking in handicapped spaces being monitored

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 5, 1999

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / December 5, 1999

LAPLACE – If there is one thing St. John Parish Sheriff Wayne L. Jones isgoing to do this Christmas season, it is make sure unauthorized people who park in handicapped spaces are severely punished.

If a $461 fine doesn’t sound severe to violators, then they must either be Bill Gates or really heartless people.

Capt. Mike Tregre of the sheriff’s office thinks businesses should put theamount of the fine on the handicapped parking signs.

“If people saw how much it cost, I think they would think twice about parking there,” he said.

Tregre recently drove around the different shopping centers in LaPlace, checking out the handicapped parking areas to make sure there were no scofflaws.

“Can’t find anybody today, which is good,” said Tregre as he drove in front of the Wal-Mart.

On this day Tregre was being helped by deputies Dan Hayes and Danny Freeman, and they concentrated their efforts on the Wal-Mart shopping center. For some reason, the most violators are in front of Wal-Mart, theysaid.

“I can never find a place in front of there,” complained a handicapped motorist who refused to give his name. “There is a big problem at the Wal-Mart.”The Christmas season is when the most violations take place in the handicapped parking zone.

Hayes, who rides around in a three-wheeled scooter, takes care of handicapped and fire-zone parking.

“Most of the year I am in the residential areas, but from Thanksgiving on, I am only working the shopping centers,” he said.

Hayes doesn’t have much trouble with St. John Parish residents parking inthe handicapped zone.

“People are pretty good,” he said, “but the St. James people and out-of-towners give me the worst trouble.

“Texans also think they can park in handicapped spaces, especially the older ones,” said Hayes, “I had a guy from Texas tell me that anyone over 65 in Texas can park in a handicapped space. He got mad when I wrote hima ticket.”Hayes said the community is very alert to people who park in handicapped spaces.

“The citizens help us out, but then they get mad when we can’t ticket some cars,” said Hayes.

The problem, said Hayes, is that the standard orange license plate isn’t the only way to identify a car whose driver is handicapped. Hayes would likethe citizens to know there are six different type of handicapped identification markers that can be put on a car. They are: The old standard orange license plates The Disable Veteran license plate that begins with the letters, “DV” The new white plates with the handicapped logo on them The temporary tag that hangs from the rear-view mirror A driver’s license that has handicapped status, (these are usually put on the dashboard for identification) A cardboard tag with the handicapped logo that is put in the car window.

Hayes said most people are only familiar with the handicapped license plates, and this causes a lot of consternation with citizens.

“They are sure they have a violator,” said Hayes, “but then I show them the other tags and they get mad.”Violators of handicapped parking laws also give officers every sort of excuse for breaking the law.

Hayes said one of the most common excuses is, “I had to go to the bathroom and the store was the closest one.”One woman actually told Hayes, “I was only backing up into the handicapped space.”Freeman said, “Most of the people I catch get very abrasive about it. Theyreally don’t care. I get excuses like, ‘I was just going in for a minute,’ or ‘Iwas just getting a soft drink out of the vending machine.'”We have checked out over seven locations in 30 minutes and much to Tregre’s surprise, there are no illegal cars in the handicapped spaces.

“We are doing a good job,” Tregre said.

Hayes has said the best time is in the evening and closer to Christmas. Bythen people are a little more desperate to get their Christmas shopping done and will park anywhere.

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