MASCOUTAH, Ill. – A disabled vet says police are keeping him from driving on a main road to his job because of his special mobility device.
The road in question is in Mascoutah, Illinois where Harper Road becomes North 6th. It’s also a state highway that leads to the middle school where James Poggi works.
He left work Thursday driving his typical 300 yards of the stretch which lies in a 20-mph zone. His total drive home is about a mile and a half.
“Suddenly it’s illegal,” he said of the drive on North 6th.
Poggi is a disabled veteran who lost his leg in the Afghanistan war. He credits his side-by-side utility terrain vehicle with getting him moving again. He said the key is its simplicity, explaining, “There’s no buzzers. There’s no beeping. The only noise there is the horn when I make it.”
Police issued him a warning notice last week for driving a side-by-side on a state highway.
Poggi said the officer added, “… that if I continue driving my mobility device to and from work on the road behind me, that they would impound my mobility vehicle and that if I stood in the way of it being impounded that I would be arrested.”
He says the Mascoutah police chief found him an alternate route, but he’d have to drive the wrong way in the school parking lot. Poggi said it’s not a safe option because “We’ve got bikes coming at us, we’ve got parents with strollers, with dogs, we’ve got cars.”
One-way arrows point the opposite way of where Poggi would have to drive at times to avoid North 6th.
It is against the law in Illinois to drive all-terrain and utility terrain vehicles on state highways. Poggi insists he should be allowed access under the American’s with Disabilities Act.
Fox 2’s Chris Hayes asked civil rights attorney Hugh Eastwood, who said, “Certainly to the extent that a local law enforcement official takes the position that federal law somehow doesn’t apply – that wouldn’t be correct.”
He says it’s not a black and white issue, where the ADA allows anything.
“No one is arguing for a right to put a wheelchair on an interstate highway or something that would obviously be unsafe. The key is reasonableness,” he said.
Mascoutah Police Chief Scott Waldrup says that’s how he’s tried to approach this issue – with reasonableness.
“I have great compassion and admiration for Mr. Poggi and his service to our country,” he said.
Waldrup says he’s consulted his city attorney and others about doing the right thing.
“I haven’t found anybody that has cited any lawful reason for me to disregard this state law,” he said.
He says he’s now come up with a new possible accommodation, saying, “We would be more than willing to let him pull his vehicle into this parking lot right here, come across the grass here (over the curb), and drive 30 to 40 feet up to that entrance up there or 50 feet, and then he could make a 90-degree crossing there and go right into the entrance (of the school).”
Poggi doesn’t believe it’s practical and fears it’s no safer, adding, “I simply want to avoid all of that. (I want to) use the traffic control devices and drive 150 to 300 yards (on N 6th) and get to work.
Attorney Eastwood says that if the veteran and the police chief cannot agree, it will take a federal lawsuit and a jury to decide. Poggi says he intends to sue.