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I-TEAM: Policing the parking lot - exposing a local handicapped parking issues

Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 7:33 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Our I-Team has been tracking handicapped parking problems at a local grocery store for more than two years.

It all started when a disabled viewer told us she was sick of struggling and seeing other handicapped shoppers struggle because of people parking illegally. She says she complained to the store manager and even called the police, but when nothing seemed to work, she asked our I-Team for help. So we went to work.

At first glance, Sally Wertz might not seem disabled. “You should never judge a book by its cover,” said Wertz. “Yeah, to look at me, you don’t know there’s something wrong.”

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Looking at this photo, it’s amazing Sally can even walk at all. She was riding in the front seat when a semi plowed into her.

“I’m grateful every day that the good Lord’s got me here,” she said. “That wreck in 1989 could have very well ended everything.”

She walked away from the accident, but she does have some trouble walking, so she’s thankful for handicapped parking. Problem is ... she started running into problems at the North Augusta Kroger, but it wasn’t because people were parking illegally IN handicap spaces.

They were illegally parking around them.

“And … it just, it makes it difficult,” she said.

That’s because the striped spaces aren’t spaces at all. They’re handicap loading zones, and no one, whether they have a handicap permit or not, is supposed to park there.

It’s not just a courtesy.

It’s the law.

In South Carolina, the minimum fine is $500. Violators could end up paying as much as $1,000. “And it’s not that they’ve run in for one item. And they’ve parked on the lines or on the bricks on the other side. I mean, they come out with a grocery buggy full,” she said.

Sally says she reported all of this to the store manager, but she says it kept happening, so she called the police.

Twice.

“The last time I reported it, they said store management doesn’t enforce it. ‘We’re not gonna do anything.’ So what do you do? That’s why I reached out to you,” she said.

Sally first sent us photos in an email back in March of 2019.

(Yeah, it was THAT long ago, but we wanted to know how often this was happening.)

Sally started sending photos every time she saw it happen, and the I-Team did some drive-bys, too.

Very quickly, it became very clear this was a regular occurrence.

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Then...it was October. The holidays came and went. In January. Sally had major surgery.

Then BOOM – COVID.

This story needed to take a backseat, but Sally kept documenting it, and so did the I-Team. In the end, we collected almost 100 photos and even a few videos from October of 2019 to the present.

We recently picked a day at random to go grocery shopping with Sally. Right away, we noticed someone parked illegally.

“I don’t know if it’s ignorance or lazy, or just don’t care. I don’t know, but something’s got to give,” she said.

North Augusta Public Safety tells the I-Team officers have received 16 calls since 2019 about people parked illegally at the Knox Avenue Kroger. Others post about it on social media. We even found a national website, handicappedfraud.org, where users can upload photos of drivers appearing to violate the Americans With Disabilities Act in parking lots all across the country.

One photo lists its address as the Kroger in North Augusta.

The I-Team wanted to talk to the Kroger manager about this and the other photos of illegal parking jobs we collected over the last couple of years, but the Kroger Corporate Office denied our request. Instead, we got the following statement:

“We work hard to ensure our customers with health issues can more easily access our stores by providing dedicated handicap parking spaces. Unfortunately, some customers do violate the handicap parking signs. We are working with the store team and local authorities to address this situation.”

Sally hopes our story educates people. “Do better,” she said. “Be kinder.”

According to officers in North Augusta, “Business rarely call Public Safety,” but Sally will keep checking.

So will the I-Team.

There have been even more photos taken since we finished the story, so it really goes to show you how often this happens. Now that our I-Team has shined the light on this, Sally hopes drivers will realize how it affects people who really need those spaces and do the right thing by not parking there.

If that doesn’t help, it could mean a $1,000 ticket if you get caught.

It’s a safe bet more people will be paying attention now.

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