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Volunteers target disability parking violators across Statesboro
Parking-M. Bullock 2 W
Magina Bullock is authorized by the city to issue civil citations for disabilities parking violations.

Issues over the use of parking spaces for people with disabilities became more noticeable during the Christmas season, say two volunteers who - in different ways - have been reminding Statesboro drivers of the law.

Magina Bullock, who has used a wheelchair since a 1994 domestic shooting left her unable to walk, was designated by the city of Statesboro in 1996 as a citizen volunteer empowered to enforce the state law on disability parking.

Since the death in 2005 of Martin Holzman, who shared that authorization, Bullock is the only person, other than actual police officers, so empowered in Statesboro
Over the years, she has seen fewer people without disability parking permits blatantly parking in the designated spaces. But more subtle abuses of the system keep cropping up.

"It's a lot better than it was, you know, 18 or 20 years ago, but the fact is that people do still abuse it," Bullock said.

Handicapped parking placards, in the form of hangtags made to be suspended from an interior rearview mirror, are issued through the county tax commissioner's office. Getting one requires a doctor's certification. The permit application, including the physician's checklist, can be found at www.dds.ga.gov/drivers.

Disability license plates are also available. The placards are better from an enforcement perspective, Bullock said, because they include the person's name and an expiration date.

Sometimes when a disabled driver dies, the vehicle with the license plate passes to a family member who continues to use the tag to park in designated spaces, she observed. Another abuse she sees is when the person with a disability remains in the car, in the handicapped space, and a nondisabled person gets out and goes into a store or the post office.

"I can't park in a handicapped parking space to let a non-handicapped person out of the car," Bullock said. "The law says that the person with the disability has to be either getting out or getting into the car."

In this situation, she gives the driver the choice of moving the car or getting a citation.

"The other thing is, they don't have a placard and they say, 'Well, I'm only going to be here a minute.' Well, that's the minute I might need that parking space," Bullock said.

She had not been very active in recent years in writing citations but plans to get back into this volunteer work since she retired as a financial advisor earlier this year.

Mouse's warnings
Meanwhile, Ted Parrish, not disabled but 82 and retired, has recently started doing some volunteer work to call attention to parking violations. Unlike Bullock, he is not authorized to write citations. But Parrish had business cards printed that he leaves under the windshield wipers of apparent violators.

"Handicap parking spaces are provided for a reason - the handicapped ... You will be fined!" the cards warn.

This appears under the heading, "Join the Mouse against illegal handicap parking." The Mouse is a defiant cartoon character on a T-shirt Parrish wears.

"It's embarrassing to me to see two women standing in a parking lot, arguing over a handicapped parking place, when one does not have a permit to be there," Parrish said, describing a moment he witnessed outside Wal-Mart.

Another interesting exchange he saw was a driver backing out of a disability parking space and handing his placard to another man driving up to occupy the space.

Parrish, whose home is on the southern end of the county, distributes his parking compliance reminders only when he comes to Statesboro. Walking for exercise, he passes through parking lots in search of possible violations.

"This country is becoming nothing but a bunch of lawbreakers, and we need to jerk them back in line and obey the law," he said.

Access aisles matter
For Bullock, finding handicapped parking is a matter of daily living. One issue that she wants to emphasize is the importance of access aisles, those extra areas painted with diagonal lines beside designated parking spaces.

Although the Statesboro Herald parking area has two spaces marked for people with disabilities, neither has an access aisle. Bullock demonstrated how the wheelchair carrier atop her car will pick up and stow the chair automatically - if it has room to operate.

"If somebody parks beside me close, I may not be able to get back in my car, because y'all don't have an access aisle on either parking space," she said.

Where access aisles are provided, people often block them, sometimes with shopping carts. Other times, motorized carts that Wal-Mart provides for shoppers in need of assistance are left in access aisles, although the user apparently walked into the store to get the cart, Bullock observed.

Bullock also wants to encourage businesses to "use common sense" and provide more than the minimum number of designated spaces in high-use areas.

"If I drive through the parking lot and I can't find a handicapped parking space, then I'm not going to spend my money there today," she said. "The businesses need to realize that that's money they are losing."

When Bullock writes tickets, these appear as civil citations in Statesboro Municipal Court. The court's clerk, Wanda Stewart, found two on record for disability parking violations in 2014. Bullock reports she has written about three more, and also some warnings, this month.

The Statesboro Police Department's officers issue misdemeanor criminal citations for disability parking violations. In 2013, SPD officers wrote 29 such citations. In 2014, through last weekend, they had written 15, reported Cpl. Justin Samples, the department's public information officer.

"We do enforce it, and we write citations whenever we find people in violation," Samples said. "We do patrol for it."

Also more than happy to respond to citizen complaints, officers will issue a citation when they verify that a violation has occurred, he said.

"It's a law for a reason. It's important," Samples said. "People who are handicapped obviously need those closer, more accessible parking spaces. They're there for a reason, and there's a reason it's a state law, not just a city ordinance."

The law specifies a fine of $100 to $500.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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