Sunday, April 10, 2011

When Luelicious Yarbrough parked his car late Thursday night on the vacant lot in his West Side neighborhood, the 89-year-old retiree never expected that by morning it would be towed - especially since he's parked in that lot near Jackson and Kolmar for the last 18 years.

Yarbrough's 1996 Ford Windstar van was towed Friday morning, along with seven other vehicles parked in the same lot belonging to neighbors on the 4600 block of West Jackson. The vehicle belonging to Sandra Rowe, a community volunteer beat facilitator in the neighborhood, was also towed by the private company.

Rowe said she asked the tow truck drivers why the cars were being removed and was told that a complaint was made. Police were also on the scene to prevent neighbors from moving or retrieving items from their cars, according to Rowe. She and other upset neighbors spoke to local media Friday afternoon about the incident.

Some neighbors on the block, however, are casting suspicion toward outgoing Ald. Sharon Dixon, alleging that Friday morning's incident was retaliation against some on the block for their vocal support for Dixon's campaign opponent, Michael Chandler. A former 24th Ward alderman himself, Chandler defeated Dixon in Tuesday's run-off election to win the seat he lost four years ago.

Austin Weekly News called Dixon's West Side office Friday evening to inform her of the charges and to seek a response, but her office was closed.

Rowe said she didn't know who made the complaint or why. Concerning the accusation that Ald. Dixon was somehow involved, Rowe said she could not say if that was the case because she has no evidence. But she and other neighbors did note that several Chandler signs that were on their block were pulled out of the ground or torn down. About a half block away from Rowe's home, several Chandler signs were sprawled out in the street.

Other neighbors, though, were emphatic that Dixon was behind it.

"She lost and this is how she gets back at the people who didn't support her," one neighbor said.

According to Rowe, when she later called police to ask about the complaint she was told that none was on file. Yarbrough, who is disabled, said his walking cane and groceries were among the items in his van. According to Rowe, the police would not allow her or other neighbors to retrieve Yarbrough's belongings. More than a dozen neighbors stood on Rowe's porch answering questions from the media this afternoon, and asked a few questions of their own.

"Who filed the complaint? And why were the cars in this lot the only ones that were towed," she asked, pointing to the now-vacant lot just across the street from her home.

Neighbors said no other cars on their block were towed, including cars parked in other lots and on the street that haven't been driven for months. Rowe and her neighbors also want to know what the process is for towing cars, and if it was followed this morning.

"I came outside to see what was going on," Rowe said. "I'm trying to get information from the tow truck drivers and they were really rude and obnoxious, and they basically said that they couldn't talk to me and they weren't going to talk to me, that I should take it up with the police.

Rowe recalled that when she talked to police at the scene, they informed her that they were there to prevent neighbors from stopping their cars from being towed. All of the vehicles were taken to a facility at 701 N. Sacramento , neighbors said. Some neighbors went to retrieve their vehicles, according to Rowe, but she and others, including Yarbrough, have not yet. Rowe said that'll cost about $150 per car, not including a storage fee if the vehicles are not picked up.

Yarbrough said he's on a fixed income and wasn't sure how he'll come up with the money. At Friday's press conference, several neighbors collected money in a hat for the elder.

Austin Weekly News will have additional coverage in next Thursday's paper.

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