ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – A mother of two is without her car after a Missouri city towed it away from her driveway for having expired temporary tags.
Christina Reise lives in Calverton Park, located in St. Louis County, and feels like she’s losing everything.
“I just don’t know how they can come into my driveway and take my car,” Reise said.
FOX 2 uncovered an administrative search warrant signed by a Calverton Park judge on May 22. It allowed the city to tow and impound Reise’s car because her temporary tag expired two months prior.
Reise said she’s been saving up to pay the taxes.
“I’ve just been taking a little bit out of every paycheck and setting it aside — the taxes are close to two grand,” she said.
Calverton Park Police/Code Enforcement Lt. Sean Gibbons said a warning was sent to Reise that gave her 10 days to remove the vehicle or have a hearing with him before taking action.
Gibbons said it comes down to two things.
“[It must be] licensed and operable in order to be in the driveway or private property in Calverton Park,” Gibbons said.
Calverton Park’s ordinance ‘prohibits property owners from having an unlicensed and/or inoperable car on the property.’
The city confirmed that since December 2020, there’s been a total of 350 violations and 81 vehicles towed away. If the vehicle is towed away, the city will also issue an abatement fee.
Attorney Joel Schwartz said Missouri law clearly states that a car can’t be towed from private property unless it’s a safety hazard, or at the request of the property owner. He said trying to argue an expired tag is also a safety hazard is a stretch.
“They’re really tap dancing around state law,” Schwartz said. “While some could argue it’s a gray area, I still think it’s in violation of this individual’s civil rights.”
Schwartz said Calverton Park’s ordinance can lead to a vicious cycle.
“It’s similar to debtors jail. You don’t pay the fine that you do in a traffic violation, and they ultimately jail you for not paying the fine, and you incur more fines for being jailed,” Schwartz said.
Gibbons said unlicensed vehicles are safety hazards because they’ve found snakes and mice when removing cars, something Reise disagrees with because she drives her vehicle every day.
Calverton Park Mayor James Paunovich said he stands by the ordinance and his city attorney.
“How many attorneys have you ever met in your life? Do they all agree on anything? Of course not,” Paunovich said.
Paunovich said he wants to keep residents living in Calverton Park and make life livable, which he believes takes enforcing city codes.
“We want to change for the better, not for the worse. So, one way to do that is to keep people here,” he said. “Not have them flee to St. Charles County.”
Gibbons said enforcing codes is for the better good of society, and they’re enforcing the ordinance until told otherwise.
“It’s up to courts to determine whether we stay on one side or the other,” he said. “That’s not up to us, but until then, we can interpret it as we must and the city attorney’s advice.”
Reise, a mother of two, said she’s been struggling ever since her vehicle was towed from her driveway.
“How am I going to get to and from work? I have kids, I have to get them to school,” she said.
Reise has been without her car for two weeks and owes the tow yard nearly $1,000 to get her vehicle out, in addition to the $2,000 in state taxes. And you can’t forget the $336 abatement fee issued by Calverton Park. It’s a tough bind for a mom who only has $800 saved up.
“I don’t have that amount of money to get my car out of the impound,” Reise said. “There’s no way. I live life paycheck to paycheck as it is.”