By Ben Simmoneau
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Every day in Philadelphia about 80 people are ticketed for illegally parking in a handicap parking spot or blocking access to a handicap ramp. That's a huge burden for the disabled. But the CBS 3 I-Team wanted to know how many people are never caught doing it, and what we found blew us away.
Our cameras watched as car after car at a Center City strip mall blatantly disregarded the handicap markings on the pavement. One man became so angry at us when we questioned him that he cursed us out.
"I hope you get AIDS," he said. "I hate you."
He was angry with us, even though he's the one who illegally parked in a handicap parking spot. There was no special plate on his car or disability placard hanging from his mirror – one of which is required to park in a spot like this.
Other drivers just ignored our questions. Several were irritated with us:
"Get out of here. Are you serious?" said one driver who told us he was only away from his car for a short while. That was an excuse a lot of people used.
"I just ran in to get the smoothie," said one woman.
A few admitted their mistake:
"Okay, well, I'm in the wrong," said a woman after we pressed her.
The I-Team even caught a Philadelphia Parking Authority van illegally parked in a handicap loading zone, blocking an accessibility ramp. When confronted, the PPA shift supervisor denied that she was parked illegally.
"This is not a handicapped ramp here," she told the I-Team's Ben Simmoneau – even though the van was clearly parked on blue striped lines, blocking a ramp to the sidewalk.
She wasn't the only PPA worker we saw parking illegally at that Center City strip mall. Another PPA employee pulled into the same loading zone and got out of her car but suddenly had a change of heart when she saw our camera. She quickly pulled out and drove away.
The I-Team also saw a city of Philadelphia employee, driving a city-owned van, pull into the same handicap loading zone. As soon as she saw the I-Team's cameras waiting, she came out and moved her van.
"I said 'Let me come out and move the car.' I just looked out and said 'Son, look where I parked I'm going to go move the car," she told us.
"You're saying you did not know this was marked, even though there are all these blue stripes?" asked reporter Ben Simmoneau.
"'Cause I was talking to my son, we were looking in the window, so I just pulled in. No I did not," she said.
"Most people don't really understand that this is not just a benefit. This is a necessity for people with disabilities," said Charles Horton, Deputy Director of the Mayor's Commission on People with Disabilities. "I have a [wheelchair] lift. I need the space… It might be my need today, but it could be your need tomorrow."
Horton says, judging by complaints, the handicap parking spot at the strip center at 21st and Hamilton Streets is one of the most-violated handicap spots in the city.
Which brings us back to the man who cursed us out. Even though the I-Team watched him get out of his silver Honda Civic, he refused to admit that was his car. Instead, he tried to wait us out – keeping his car in the spot for more than two hours.
It ended up costing him, though: a police officer wrote him a $300 ticket.
Because that parking spot is on private property, not the street, police officers can write tickets there but not Parking Authority employees.
The Parking Authority tells us they've identified the shift supervisor who parked their van in the handicap loading zone. They said she showed "poor judgment" and apologized for that. They say she will be disciplined.
The city says it is investigating its worker who did the same. They told us the vehicle she was driving was assigned to the city's Recreation Department.
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