Law enforcers in Erie County say they'll be watching more closely this summer to ensure those parking in handicap-designated spaces really belong there.
Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw included the revenues raised from handicap parking tickets in a report on revenues from town and village courts within the county. He explained that a surcharge is added to tickets issued to violators and those revenues in the first quarter of 2018 are up 36 percent from the same time last year.
More people are using handicap parking spaces inappropriately, he stated, and he believes there may be more violations happening than what was counted in his report.
"I always say there is a special place in hell for people who are either heartless, lazy, stupid or a combination of them all, who are able-bodied, who park illegally in a handicap parking spot," Mychajliw said. "It's wrong and it shows it's on the rise in Erie County and that's rather unfortunate."
Mychajliw appeared in Orchard Park, joining town police chief Mark Pacholek, and town supervisor Patrick Keem, along with Division Captain Scott Joslyn of the Erie County Sheriff's Department, to announce law enforcers will be keeping a closer watch on handicap parking spaces to ensure those who are using them are doing so legally.
Joslyn explained that the holder of a handicap parking permit must be an occupant of the vehicle when it is parked in a desginated space. They do not necessarily have to be the driver but they must be in the car.
"If we find that the permit holder is not an occupant, we will be seizing that permit and returning that permit to the municipality that issued it," Joslyn said. "It will be up to that municipality to decide whether or not that permit will be reissued or any other penalties associated with it."
Keem admitted that, for many years, he was one of those individuals among the public who would see numerous empty handicap parking spaces and complain there were too many. But several years ago, he was severely injured in an accident and found himself in temporary use of a wheelchair.
It's a lesson he still remembers today.
"For over six months, I learned to appreciate the importance of handicap parking spaces," he said. "I certainly ask everyone, please obey the law. The police don't want to write tickets. They don't want to have you come into court. But these spots are reserved for people for a good reason."
Not long after the news conference ended, Gloria Pfohl was leaving the Orchard Park Municipal Center and walking to her parked car, in one of the spaces. The senior citizen, who is a legal permit holder, was asked if she had experienced issues with people wrongly using the spaces and where she sees it happening.
"A lot of time, when you go to the grocery store," she said. "I think a lot of people who don't really need them take the spaces."
She was then asked if she found that frustrating.
"A little bit," she replied.