ASSIGNMENT 13: Stolen handicapped parking spaces becoming problem for disabled drivers

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The spots are there for people with disabilities.

But more and more we're hearing those handicapped parking spaces are being stolen by the able-bodied.

Chances are you or someone you know relies on those spaces in order to be active and out and about.

A local man came to WEAU 13 News to find out why there are so many parking problems for the disabled.

“I have spinal bifida. So I’ve been using a wheel chair all my life,” said Jason Endres.

Endres said he was able to get a new set of wheels 20 years ago.

With the help of a special van that has a wheel chair lift; Endres is able to drive around town on his own.

But lately he's running into a big problem, people taking disabled spots who shouldn't be there.

“It's gotten worse. They know I need that spot but they'll just look at you and smile,” Endres said.

Another big problem is getting his chair lift out.

Having a side lift on his van, Endres relies on the striped space between parking spots to safely get in and out of his ride.

But sometimes he finds that important buffer zone blocked.

“It's happened to me numerous times. I come out and there's a motorcycle sitting right there,” Endres said.

To use a disabled spot legally you either need a temporary hanging tag or a permanent plate.

You get those through the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles with proof from a doctor that you need it.

While some spaces are blatantly swiped, others get away with it because they're misusing a permit stemming from a child's or relative's disability.

“We did have a fella that was in his 20s that took his grandma's permit and used it for a couple months until we finally got him,” said Bonnie Bertrang, a Senior CSO with the Eau Claire Police Department.

The police department has its own parking enforcement team.

Bertrang said they see the most disabled parking violations at the Oakwood Mall, Wal-Mart and area grocery stores.

“When it's extremely hot, very cold, they'll just take the handicap thinking they'll just be there for a little bit,” Bertrang said.

WEAU went out with Bertrang to bust illegal parkers but didn't find any violators.

But that wasn't the case when we went out on our own one rainy Wednesday night.

Shooting from inside a news car, WEAU recorded four cars without a disabled hanger or plate displayed taking up handicapped spots at stores in Eau Claire.

One was even parked in the striped zone, possibly blocking access for side lifts.

“I go into the mall management to say, you know, this isn't right,” Endres said.

The Oakwood Mall said its public safety officers patrol for parking fraud and it encourages shoppers to contact management if they find stolen spaces.

Although this is still a problem, Bertrang said police have been taking action.

“We've been hitting it a lot and people call in very well,” Bertrang said.
Endres said he'd like to see stiffer penalties for violators.

He said those brazen parking thieves don't think about who they're hurting.

“They'll say, ‘Oh, I’m just running in for a minute.’ That’s very frustrating and you want to lash out but you know that doesn't do any good,” Endres said.

Bertrang said the fine for illegally parking in a disabled spot in Eau Claire is $50 and could be up to $75 in other communities.

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