Two Hershey residents came to court Friday to contest their parking tickets in a bench trial before Lincoln County Judge Michael Piccolo.
The controversy erupted when Hershey High parents rented the North Platte Recreation Center for an after-prom party on April 13-14, which lasted from midnight to 3:30 a.m.
The Rec Center was closed to other business. The parking lot filled up and some people parked in handicapped parking stalls.
North Platte policeman Travis Ross issued five parking tickets around 2 a.m., working for about 20 minutes, with a $100 fine.
Three of the five ticketholders contested the legality of the ticket.
In court Friday, defense attorney Russ Jones said the handicapped parking stalls at the Rec Center are not properly marked, so the court should toss out the tickets.
In an opening statement, Jones read a state statute that says that each handicap parking stall must have an above-ground handicapped parking sign immediately adjacent to the stall and the sign must be visible from the driver’s seat of a vehicle parked in the stall.
Jones said most of the handicap parking spaces at the rec center do not have a sign. He produced photos that show signs at each end of a seven-stall section.
Jones said the city has not complied with state statutes.
Jones also said that blue paint on the curbs or the pavement are not an adequate substitute for signs. He pointed out that the statute says blue paint “may” be painted on curbs and surfaces of the stalls, but is not required.
He reiterated the wording of the statute, that signs are required to be “above ground” and adjacent to each stall.
On the city’s behalf, City Attorney Doug Stack argued that the blue curbs create an above-ground sign on each stall.
Stack called Ross to the stand. Ross said he was patrolling the area around 2 a.m. watching for people drinking and fighting, because he knew there was an event going on at the rec center that morning.
He said that was when he ticketed the vehicles.
Stack asked Ross about signs on the handicap parking stalls and Ross said there are two signs, one at each end of a reserved block of seven stalls. He said one of those signs is in line between the first and second stalls.
Ross also said each sign has an arrows that points toward the other sign, to indicate they apply to the stalls between the signs.
Ross also said the curbs are painted blue and blue wheelchair symbols are painted on the pavement of each stall.
Hershey parent Susanna Klaasmeyer came to the stand. Jones asked her about the conditions in the lot that night. Klaasmeyer said she could clearly see yellow painted curbs as she pulled in, such as the one near the entrance where the entertainer, who was also ticketed, parked to unload his gear.
Klaasmeyer said she pulled into the fourth stall from the end of the seven reserved stalls and could not see any signs, because vehicles were parked on each side of the car. She said it was dark and painted symbols on the pavement are faded, and she couldn’t see the blue color in the dark.
Jones presented photos showing the faded condition of the painted symbols.
Stack reiterated that the curbs are also painted blue. Jones again pointed out that the statute says curbs and stalls “may” be painted, but that signs must be posted.
Calling another parent, Shawna Davison, to the stand, Jones asked about the markings where she parked.
Davison said no signs were visible from her vehicle. And, she returned to the lot later to check and photograph the painted markings. Her photos were placed in evidence, showing the painted marks in bad shape. The blue wheelchair symbol where Davison parked is barely visible, with only a trace of blue paint.
Student Chayton Crow took the stand. Crow was driving his father’s vehicle, and he parked in the fourth space of the seven handicap spaces. He said no signs or symbols were visible in the dark and a tree is the only thing in front of the parking space. Again photos were presented, verifying Crow’s statements.
Jones called Ross back to the stand and asked if he could provide evidence where the ticketed vehicles were parked. Ross did, using his notes and copies of the citations.
Jones asked him about the condition of the painted curbs and symbols. Ross agreed that they are faded and look as if they have not been painted in a long time.
In closing, Stack said photos prove the signs are adjacent to the stalls and the arrows indicate reserved stalls in each direction. Stack said the word “adjacent” means “in the vicinity,” and does not mean next to each parking stall.
Stack agreed that painted curbs and symbols are not required by state statute, but he said the drivers had ample notice from the signs.
In Jones' closing, he said the wording of the statute is clear that signs must be “immediately” adjacent to “each” stall and visible from the driver’s seat of a vehicle. He said in two of the stalls, only trees are visible.
Lincoln County Judge Michael Piccolo said he would take the case under advisement and issue a written decision in a few days.
Three tickets are being contested, but only the tickets issued to Crow and Davison were tried Friday.
Another, Susanna Klaasmeyer’s, was postponed because Lincoln County Judge Kent Turnbull was absent.