Two Hershey residents can tear up their parking tickets after they fought them all the way to a bench trial in Lincoln County Court. County Judge Michael Piccolo dismissed the $100 parking tickets Friday against Monte Davison and Mark Crow. The tickets were issued on prom night at the North Platte Recreation Center.
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 five people parked in handicapped parking stalls. Three of them arrived late and took the last spots that were available.
North Platte policeman Travis Ross issued the five parking tickets around 2 a.m., working for about 20 minutes, assessing each of them a $100 fine.
Three of the five ticketholders contested the legality of the ticket.
Piccolo heard the case on Aug. 23 and considered the evidence for several days.
He ruled Friday that the handicapped parking signs in the parking lot were improperly posted, agreeing with the arguments presented by defense attorney Russ Jones of North Platte.
In ruling against North Platte City Attorney Doug Stack, Piccolo also ruled that the city must pay court costs.
In court, Jones pointed out that state statutes and city ordinance both say that above-ground signs must be posted at each parking stall. At the rec center, only two signs were posted for seven adjoining stalls. There was also blue painted "handicapped" markings on the pavement, but the defendants said the paint was faded and they didn’t see it in the dim light.
The defendants testified that other cars blocked their view of the above ground signs. Also, one of the two above-ground signs was partially covered by a fully-leafed tree.
Stack argued for the city. He said that signs don't have to be posted at each stall, so long as they are nearby.
But Piccolo ruled that “it is clearly apparent” that the signs must be positioned at each parking stall. He said the "handicapped parking designations did not comply or conform" with either the city ordinance, state statute or regulations of the federal Americans with Disability Act.
Piccolo said the court is left with no other alternative than to dismiss the cases.
Jones said afterwards that he tried to settle out of court but the city refused.
“When I realized how much time, effort and money the Hershey parents had spent to provide a safe night for their kids, I went to the city and asked for a little discretion when it came to pursuing these "non" violations,” Jones told the Bulletin. “They chose to prosecute.”
Jones said as he studied the case, it became apparent to him that the city was not in compliance with local, state and federal law.
“My clients had no idea they were parked in what the city considered handicapped spots. There were no signs in front of the spots,” he said.
Jones said the city will have to properly post the handicapped stalls, or the handicapped who want to park there will “have their allotted spots compromised."