Chicago Seized a Disabled Woman's Van. Now It's Scrap Metal.

The city decided her van was an abandoned vehicle, even though it clearly wasn't.


Screenshot via WBBM

A disabled Chicago woman was deprived of her only form of transportation after the city decided her wheelchair-accessible van was an abandoned vehicle.

For more than a decade, Andrea Santiago's family parked her van along different parts of the same street. The van, equipped with a hydraulic lift, was worth about $15,000. According to WBBM, which reviewed years of Google Earth images, the van was regularly parked legally.

"It was her only mode of transportation," attorney Jacie Zolna, who's representing Santiago's family, explains to Reason. It was "my freedom," Santiago, who has multiple sclerosis, tells WBBM.

Santiago relied on the van to get to doctor's appointments, among other places. But in June, an investigator from the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation put a notice on the vehicle. If the van wasn't moved in the next week, the notice said, the city would treat it like an abandoned vehicle and tow it away.

According to spokesperson Marjani Williams, the department only investigates potentially abandoned vehicles that have been reported by residents. In this case, WBBM reports the department received just one 311 call. And the caller misidentified Santiago's GMC van as a Chevy sedan.

But it shouldn't have ended up mattering. When they saw that the van had to be moved, Santiago's family went above and beyond. "We scraped everything off the windows and put a sign up that said the vehicle is not abandoned," her son-in-law, Mike Reilly, tells WBBM. "We even left a phone number for my wife so they could call, and we moved the van up one spot."

It wasn't enough. "No reasonable person could conclude that it was a deserted vehicle," says Zolna. "They just came and took it anyways."

Technically, it wasn't the city that took the car. United Road Towing (URT), which has a $60 million contract with the Chicago government, towed the van to the auto pound. URT is the same company that declared bankruptcy last year following a $5 million judgement in a class-action suit from people claiming their cars were towed without their permission.

According to WBBM, "The company kept Santiago's van at the auto pound for two weeks then, as the contract allows them to do, they bought it from the city for $15." It wound up in a salvage yard, where it was sold for scrap and crushed.

Williams says the city sends "pre-tow" notices via mail to whoever's name is on a potentially abandoned vehicle's registration. And according to a department statement: "Owners receive another notice via certified mail after the vehicle is impounded."

Zolna disputes that this is how the department operates. "They do not send you a letter until after the car has been towed," he says. "Your car could be sitting a block away from you, and if the city thinks it was abandoned, they won't even tell you that they think it's abandoned before they take it."

Santiago's family claims they received no warning aside from the abandoned vehicle sticker. And they didn't hear anything after it was impounded either. "Not a phone call, not a letter in the mail," Reilly tells WBBM. "We received no notification whatsoever."

As long as they moved the car, they should have been in the clear. If "there's proof that the vehicle was moved, then we will not tow the vehicle," Williams says. Investigators do their "due diligence," she explains, though she wouldn't say if they had found proof that the van was moved.

Like Santiago, Chicago Alderman Nicholas Sposato of the 38th Ward has multiple sclerosis. He thinks the city messed up. "I fully say we made a mistake and this can't happen in the future," he tells WBBM. In this case, he suggests, a little common sense might have gone a long way. "You would hope people would have a little more compassion and have a half a brain to say: 'I can see the lift in here. I can see the handicap plate. Do I really want to be towing this?'" Sposato says.

Chicago has a long history of taking away without good reason. In April, Reason's C.J. Ciaramella published an investigation into how the city generates revenue by impounding innocent people's vehicles. Between 2012 and 2017 alone, Chicago racked up $114 million in vehicle impound fines.

As for Santiago, Zolna says he's taking "every action possible" to ensure that she gets reimbursed. "We're going to do whatever we need to do to make sure this gets remedied," he says.

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  1. And the caller misidentified Santiago’s GMC van as a Chevy sedan.

    That’s awful presumptuous! Cops didn’t get the wrong car, there was no mutual miscommunication… nope. That might lead to internal investigations and procedures being revise. No, just idiotic anonymous tipsters just sending out the goon squad to destroy people’s property. Nothing to see here.

  2. Bunch of backwards bitter clingers, typical Republican rubes who can’t keep up. No wonder the government of Chicago is so messed up.

    1. Carry on…

    2. Chicago is anything but republican!

  3. Chicago hired the towing company, did not do due diligence, Chicago is responsible for all mistakes made by their agent (if the agent goes bankrupt). Good luck getting Chicago to pay up.

    1. Oh, I’m quite sure that the mayor’s office got their cut of the bribe money.


  4. Between 2012 and 2017 alone, Chicago racked up $114 million in vehicle impound fines.

    Almost like it’s incentivized to take as much property as it can.

    1. At $15 per crushed vehicle. Wow.

      1. That’s the who-cares official on-the-books fee. Rightly, what the crusher pays is spread out more appropriately.

      2. Nah, the article said the mobsters towing company paid $15 for the unclaimed vehicle. I am sure the criminal fuckwads nice gentlemen cleared significant more from the parts and pieces before scrapping the body for at least a few hundred for the steel. The wheelchair lift alone would be worth a few thousand used.

        Not that there are any perverse incentives on the part of the criminal syndicate completely legitimate contractor.

        1. Your corrections seem to have gone bass akwards. 🙂

        2. And that’s just what the paperwork says. That’s no proof that the vehicle was actually crushed for scrap. If it was a runner, surely they would have wholesaled it if they didn’t have a thriving parts business. At a strike price of $15, it is pretty hard not to turn a profit.

          Whoever negotiated that contract for the city is an idiot. As in, shrewd enough to take the handsome kickback for signing such a stinker of a deal.

          1. Whoever negotiated that contract for the city is an idiot.

            More likely a crook.


            1. Wink, wink.

  5. “We’re going to do whatever we need to do to make sure this gets remedied,” he says.

    Even if it takes the CPD to pay her a personal visit.

  6. How much co2 was that heap putting into that atmosphere?

    1. Not very much, parked on the side of the street.

    2. Who the hell cares!?

      Disabled woman in a WHEELCHAIR needs to be able to get around! That means a wheelchair capable vehicle. In other words, a van with a chair lift.

      There’s no such thing as AGCC, no matter how much the thieving Democrats claim that there is!

  7. I wonder how many anonymous calls about abandoned vehicles in Chicago came from employees of United Road Towing as a way of getting the city to give them permission to steal someone’s car in exchange for a $15 bribe.

    1. I’d expect any anonymous tips from URT employees to get the make and model of the vehicle correct.

      1. Or an ambiguous make and model so they have a blank check….

        Uh, I saw an abandoned sedan…. black, maybe dark blue… 4 doors. Like a honda or toyota or something.

  8. Rough day for vans.

    1. Keeps the child-molesters on their toes.

  9. Bottom line: impound fees.

  10. Let’s see – – – –
    Due process
    anonymous tips
    procedures were followed
    anything else?

    Maybe she will vote democratic now

  11. Wow. Nice racket they have going.

    Is it possible every article I read about Chicago is how rotten a corrupted place to its core it is? If not the cops, the teachers if not City Hall if not something else.

    Jesus. The city should just on compassionate grounds give her a new van.

    1. They’ll spend more than the price of a new van just screwing around with this. And still fuck it up.

    2. Or just drop a bomb in the place.

  12. How was this van worth more to the crusher than an auction house?

    1. There’s probably not much demand for vans that have been modified for people in wheelchairs.

      1. But the people who need that modification REALLY need it.

        But the answer to the question of how the van was worth more to the crusher than the auction house is that after the usable parts have been removed, what remains doesn’t fetch much at auction.

      2. See Breaking Bad. Life imitates art.

    2. Once it is parted out and the remainder crushed there is no proof and the car cannot be retrieved as a car can if it has been auctioned.

      1. If it’s been sold at auction, it belongs to the new owner. Google “good faith purchaser for value”

  13. Sounds like the city official needed some method to get a kickback and that $60 million contract with United Road Towing (URT), was the way to go.

  14. Nothing new in Chicago. I can’t believe you missed an opportunity to post this.

    Lincoln Park Pirates

    1. I had my car stolen from the side of the road in Lincoln Park a few years ago. I hardly drove my car, but moved it every week or so regardless. Well, one day I went to go move it and it was gone. Not towed as I called around, just gone. Filled out a police report, waited 15 days, and received an insurance check for almost as much as I had paid in cash for the car not long prior. I guess in the end it worked out that I paid maybe $30/month for the time I had the car. Lucky me?

  15. A perfect example of a city run by progressive Democrats looking out for the needs of its most vulnerable citizens

    1. Right. What the city needs is a good community organizer to look out for the interests of the little people like this woman.

      Seriously, however, I wonder if Chicago is an example of the economically and intellectually vibrant modern communities the reverend is always going on about. Politically, it seems to be overrun by the worst sort of benighted and backwards hacks.

  16. Was the van covered in right wing bumperstickers?

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  18. Forget it, Jake. Its Chi-town

  19. When I park on the street in Manhattan, I check on it every day, especially if it is not visible from my building. I don’t expect it to be towed as I am very careful about parking and street cleaning regulations. Didn’t she have any one (friend or neighbor) who looks out for her vehicle?

  20. Yeah, well, Chicago also has a kazillion red light cameras too. They’re big on law enforcement and public safety. Hadn’t you heard?

  21. Can you just see the finger pointing exercise between the financially bankrupt towing company and the morally bankrupt City of Chicago.

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