When Luelicious Yarbrough parked his car just a week ago Thursday evening 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 for the last 18 years.
Yarbrough’s 1996 Ford Windstar van was towed that Friday morning, along with seven other vehicles parked in the same lot belonging to neighbors on the 4600 block of West Jackson. Sandra Rowe, a community volunteer beat facilitator in the neighborhood who lives on the block, stepped in to help Yarbrough and other neighbors.
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 last Friday afternoon about the incident.
The vehicles were taken to a West Side towing facility. Some neighbors, including Yarbrough, have since recovered their vehicles.
Some neighbors on the block, however, cast suspicion toward outgoing Ald. Sharon Dixon, alleging that the towing 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 the April 5 run-off election to win the seat he lost four years ago.
Austin Weekly News called Dixon’s West Side office last Friday evening to inform her of the charges and to seek a response, but her office was closed. A spokesperson for the alderman released a statement to local media over the weekend, calling the allegations “preposterous” and that Dixon “would never operate like that.”
Rowe said she didn’t know who made the complaint or why. Concerning the accusations against Dixon, Rowe could not say if the alderman orchestrated the towing because she had 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, wheelchair 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.
“Who filed the complaint? And why were the cars in this lot the only ones that were towed,” Rowe 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. About 11 hours after the towing incident, neighbors were able to get Yarbrough’s van from the towing facility at 701 N. Sacramento at a cost of about $150.
Speaking to Austin Weekly News this week, Rowe said a few of the neighbors have retrieved their vehicles from the facility but four cars remain as of Tuesday. Rowe and her neighbors also want to know what the process is for towing cars, and if it was followed.
“I came outside to see what was going on,” Rowe said of last Friday’s incident. “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.
At Friday’s press conference, several neighbors collected money in a hat for Yarbrough.
“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” he said.