Parking lot rage

Handicapped space: Incensed Harford woman made her point, but two wrongs don't make a right.

August 11, 1999

LINDA Shepard-Gebhart was right. Her "citizen's arrest" of a woman who had illegally parked in a handicapped spot in Bel Air made a point that can't be ignored.

Too often, able-bodied people think nothing of parking in handicapped spaces. Or they falsify applications for a handicapped permit for convenience sake, as did 14 recently fined UCLA football players.

But Ms. Shepard-Gebhart was wrong, too. You don't take the law into your own hands, as she did when she blocked Gay Joyce Smithson's vehicle with her own outside a Bel Air bagel shop.

As it is, Ms. Shepard-Gebhart is lucky to be facing a trial rather than her own funeral. "Road rage," the '90s term for unspeakable driving behavior, has resulted in violence for less aggressive gestures. A Northern Virginia woman was recently beaten to death in front of her children after shouting at a group of teen-agers.

Write down the license plate number and call the police, or politely advise the illegal parker of his or her transgression. But no one should be playing tough in parking lots or on the road.

You would think Ms. Smithson would know plenty about the importance of handicapped parking, given her job driving a bus for disabled students.

You'd also think parking in handicapped spaces would be taken more seriously by the authorities. As often you see illegal handicapped parking, how frequently do you see or hear of someone getting cited for it?

Ms. Shepard-Gebhart's frustration is understandable, but her actions are not. Next time, she -- and anyone in a similar situation -- ought to think twice about acting.

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