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Disabled Woman To Sue City For Wrongly Towing Van As Abandoned

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Towing without telling; the city of Chicago is accused of hauling away thousands of cars without properly warning the owners.

Now victims are taking the city to court.

It all started with Andrea Santiago's van, and Dave Savini's CBS 2 investigation.

Stricken with polio at the age of five, and later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, it is fair to say Santiago has had a tough life. Action by the city of Chicago has not helped.

Santiago's wheelchair lift-equipped van was towed away last summer. It was parked legally on her street, with a disability placard and plates, yet it was tagged as abandoned and towed.

"They definitely need to tighten up, and make sure that – especially with someone who has a handicap vehicle – that they're notifying these people the proper way," said Santiago's daughter, Lisandra Velez.

Towed Van
Andrea Santiago's van with a customized wheelchair lift was wrongly declared abandoned by the city, and then towed away and sold for scrap. (Credit: CBS)

Santiago's daughter said the city failed to send any warning letter before towing the van.

"We feel powerless against the city," Velez said.

"For too long the city has been running a racket on how they take people's vehicles away from them," attorney Jacie Zolna said.

Santiago's lawyers plan to file a lawsuit on her behalf, seeking class action status for potentially thousands of other vehicle owners whose cars were towed as abandoned, without any warning letter.

"We're going to seek an order requiring the city to give people the right notice, so they know what to do if their car is towed," Zolna said.

The city's warning, like in Santiago's case, is to slap a sticker on a vehicle deemed to be abandoned. It warns if the vehicle isn't moved within seven days, it will be towed.

"People may go on vacation. They may not use their vehicle every day," Zolna said. "So simply putting a sticker on a vehicle in the city of Chicago, you know that that's not good enough."

The CBS 2 Investigators tracked Santiago's van. It ended up at a salvage yard; stripped of its engine, crushed, and buried in shreds along with the hydraulic lift in a pile of scrap metal. She's out $15,000, and the city has denied their claim for the loss.

"Hopefully we can hopefully make a change, and bring some attention to this, and bring some awareness to it; because the city can't just keep getting away with what they are getting away with," Velez said.

Since 2017, the city has towed more than 4,700 so-called abandoned vehicles. More than half were sold to a private company.

Car owners basically get nothing from those sales.

A city spokesperson said it cannot comment on litigation, but it does follow all municipal and state laws involving abandoned vehicles.

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