In downtown Greensboro, parking problems for one resident

by Amy Kingsley

It’s a rare night that finds Teresa Staley out past 11 p.m.

That’s because Staley, 50, suffers from muscular dystrophy, which has progressively robbed her body of muscle tone. She requires around the clock nursing care, a motorized wheelchair and nightly use of a ventilator. Every night at 11 p.m., her nurses and attendants begin a bedtime routine that requires at least two lifters and the supervision of a nursing assistant. [Disclosure: The writer is a former attendant to Staley]

Still, Staley is far from a shut-in. She routinely goes to concerts, movies and readings – provided they end early. And on Oct. 20, she decided to break her usual curfew to attend a wedding reception for one of her attendants at the Green Burro.

The evening started inauspiciously when Staley, unable to find street or garage parking that would accommodate her van, which is outfitted with a lift, parked in a private lot next to Cheesecakes by Alex. Robin Davenport, the city’s parking operations manager, said the city conducted a review of handicapped spaces and brought downtown up to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But she acknowledged that the parking decks, which have clearances between 6 and a half and 7 feet, do not accommodate some vans with lifts.

“It’s too tall for the parking decks,” Staley said of her van. “And if I park on the street, the lift usually puts me out into the middle of traffic.”

Her attendants rolled out the eight-foot ramp Staley has been using since her lift broke and escorted her to the bar around the corner. Then they toted Staley up 42 steps to the third-story sports bar where newlyweds Bart Trotman and Jessica Davis had rented a room for karaoke.

Staley left her heavy motorized chair in the van and swapped it for a lighter temporary chair not as supportive of her scoliosis-curved spine. She and her attendants partied for a couple of hours before they hustled her back down the stairs at a little after 1 a.m.

Then they returned to the parking lot, only to find the van – which was clearly marked with handicapped parking tags – missing. Matt Bostick, who was with Staley that night, called Kirk’s Sineath towing company to get the van back. Staley, who uses a battery-operated suction machine to keep her windpipe clear when she is out on the town, needed to get back home to her ventilator and a regular power source, he said. The man on the other end of the phone wouldn’t budge.

“I know [Bostick] got mad enough that he threw the phone across the parking lot,” Staley said.

Then Teresa’s nurse called and explained that Staley needed the specially modified van. The man at the towing company again refused to tow the van back, and Staley’s employees worked the phones until they turned up a friend with a van who shuttled Staley back home.

Haggling with the towing company continued until after 3 a.m. The tow truck driver refused to accept Staley’s credit card, which she had sent with her attendants, because she wasn’t there in person to sign the receipt. Noah Howard, another attendant, shelled out $160 of his own money to get the van off the lot and back to Staley.

Later, when Staley called the tow company to complain about her treatment, one of the managers explained that they could have towed the vehicle back for an extra $95.

The Lofts at Greensboro Court, which employs security guards who report any vehicles left after hours, owns the lot next to Alex’s.

“There are signs everywhere that say not to park there,” said Pat Sawyer, a manager at the apartments. “What was she doing out that late anyway?”

Sawyer said the security guards were doing their jobs when they reported Staley’s van to Kirk’s Sineath.

“There’s so many people who have handicapped tags that aren’t really handicapped,” Sawyer said. “So that’s not really a good indicator.”

But in this case the towee really was handicapped, and in a potentially perilous situation.

Carol Wilson, one of Staley’s nurses, tried to explain that her patient would need the van to get to the hospital if there were a medical emergency.

The evening has inspired Staley to lobby for more handicapped spaces in city lots large enough to accommodate wheelchair lifts. And she said she would like to see towing companies like Kirk’s Sineath be a little more flexible when it comes to dealing with people with disabilities.

“What if I hadn’t had my friends there?” she asked. “What if this happened to someone who was alone?”

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