Tax-free weekend is one of the busiest times for Travis County constables to ticket illegally parked vehicles.
Deputy Constables hit shopping centers and malls to find those who may be unlawfully taking advantage of handicapped parking spots. Last year during tax-free weekend, deputies and volunteers handed out 107 tickets. Fines for illegally parking in a handicapped spot start at $750.
Two years ago, Tony Araguz and his wife Katherine were fed up with people parking in handicapped spots even though they did not have a disability. “You know, we always have trouble finding parking spots for her to be able to do what we normally do and do our regular business,” said Tony.
Katherine needs a wheelchair to get around and she says parking too far away is not just challenging, it's threatening her well-being “It's very personal for me because I can't push myself very far and I have medical issues that prevent me from pushing very far,” Katherine said.
That's when they decided to sign up for the Citizen Disabled Parking Enforcement Program.
“I want to make a difference in this community and I think being disabled myself, I could be that difference that somebody needs to see,” said Katherine. Volunteers are not allowed to approach drivers, but sometimes they are questioned after issuing a ticket.
“I tell them it's not worth it. It's not worth the penalties for it, it's not worth cheating your neighbor out of a space that they need in order to be able to get to where they need to go,” said Tony.
When a car is illegally parked with someone inside, that's where deputy constables come in.
“The deputy constables can approach individuals and verify the placard that they're using is really theirs and not a grandmother’s or somebody else that is not in the vehicle,” said Sr. Deputy Constable Laurence Caldwell.
Caldwell and other deputies scour shopping center and mall parking lots to find those taking advantage of the system. “Take the few extra minutes to walk a little bit further. You're taking these spots that need to be used for individuals that are truly handicapped and disabled and need to use those spaces,” Caldwell said.
Even parking illegally for just two minutes can cause a world of hurt for someone with a disability.
“That two minutes may mean nothing for someone that's able bodied, but it's a lifetime for someone that's in a wheelchair because it takes a lot longer for them to get from the back of a parking lot to a restaurant or a store,” said Katherine.
To volunteer for the Citizen Disabled Parking Enforcement Program head over to the Travis County Constable Precinct 5 website.