CHICAGO (CBS)–A heartwarming story after a CBS 2 investigation uncovered problems in the way the city of Chicago tows vehicles.
A woman suffering from multiple sclerosis and with a placard and license plates for a person with disabilities had her van towed and crushed.
CBS 2 dug into the way the Chicago Auto Pound is being run along with its abandoned vehicle program and while at least one alderman is calling for changes and more oversight viewers are now stepping up to help.
“Thank you all, that’s so nice,” said a surprised Andrea Santiago when a van equipped with a wheelchair ramp was rolled out for her covered in red ribbons.
Santiago was given the van for free after CBS 2 viewers saw the ongoing coverage of her ordeal.
“Here are the keys now you can travel the whole United States,” said Donna Kopulos. She along with her husband George Kopulas gave Santiago the van today to help her get to her doctor’s appointments. They were also upset with Chicago for allowing a private company to tow a clearly marked wheelchair van.
In October, the CBS 2 investigators exposed how it was towed through the city’s loosely-regulated abandoned vehicle program–run by the Streets and Sanitation Department, but towed by private towing contractors.
“It is just very infuriating, it was absolutely not abandoned,” said Santiago’s daughter Lisandra Velez.
She claimed the family moved the van a few feet and put posters in the window alerting the city that it belonged to a person who was disabled yet the city had it towed anyway.
CBS 2 exposed how United Road Towing, which has a $60 million city contract, got to keep her van despite no police involvement or photographic evidence to back up the abandoned vehicle claim that it wasn’t moved for seven days.
The company, which filed bankruptcy last year, operates the city’s auto pounds, towing, booting and abandoned vehicle programs with little or no oversight.
No one would comment from the company about Santiago’s vehicle.
CBS 2 found her old van, equipped with a $10,000 hydraulic lift, getting sold by United Road Towing to a recycling company. The van was ultimately stripped of its engine and crushed.
“I wanted to give it to somebody that needed it,” said George Kopulos who owns Elmhurst Frame and Alignment. “We felt really bad when we heard the story this is so terrible,” said his wife Donna Kopulos. Recently their aunt who also needed a wheelchair accessible van passed away so they gave it to Santiago.
A group of Chicago firefighters and Marino Dodge also donated maintenance, detailing and tires for the van.
Santiago has a pending claim with the city for the value of her old van and lift but litigation could take years and the Kopulos family wanted to help her now.