(WMC-TV) - A Memphis man, who uses a wheelchair, says he is fed up with people illegally parking in spaces reserved for people with disabilities. He tried to take matters into his own hands, but it got him banned from a local grocery store.
Parking spaces for people with disabilities take up prime real estate all over Mid-South parking lots, but it is something Steve Collins wishes he did not need. Collins has to assemble and use a wheelchair everywhere he goes. He became paralyzed after a heart transplant in 2011.
"[The parking spot] has to be one that's got wheelchair van accessible," he said. "It's tough to do, but it's part of my life, so I do it."
Also, a part of his life now is encountering drivers who illegally park in handicap spots.
He was temporarily banned from a Mid-South grocery store recently when he confronted an illegal parker.
"I got upset. I lost my temper and went out and let some air out of the lady's tires. I should not have done that," said Collins.
Collins is not the only one frustrated.
"Well sometimes [the spots] all filled up," said driver Barbara Jenkins. "We just have to park someplace else close by."
But West Memphis police Lt. Brian Gardner says drivers abusing accessible parking spots is a problem for Mid-South law enforcement.
"They're taking a spot away from somebody that really needs it," he said. "Misuse is our biggest issue with those."
The most frequent violators have the blue placard, it just happens to be assigned to someone else.
"The placard doesn't give you the right to park there if you're not handicapped. It's designed for that person," said Southaven police Lt. Mark Little.
Some drivers create counterfeit tags just so they can park close to the door.
Tennessee Representative John Ragan is pushing for legislation that would make it easier for law enforcement to spot a fake.
"Having information on the placard that is easy for them to check and determine what the status of that placard and that vehicle truly is," he said.
Ragan dropped the idea of putting photos on placards because it was too costly. That is the law in South Carolina. And in North Carolina, handicap parking placards have expiration dates printed so large that they can be read from 20 feet away.
In Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee – fines for illegally parking in a handicapped spot start at $100 for first time offenders. Fines for second and third offenses can go up to $1,000. In Arkansas drivers can lose their license.
Steve Collins says the only way to decrease the problem is to increase the penalty.
"If they raised the fines from a $100 to $250 or $300 and collected the fines. The city wouldn't have to raise the property tax," said Collins.
A spokesperson for Memphis police says officers are not on the look out for accessible parking abuses, but they do respond to parking complaints when they are called.
You can report abuses to the manager of the lot you are using or call your local police department's non-emergency number.
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