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Article posted: 8/30/2013 5:30 AM

Streamwood lawyer threatens lawsuits over lack of handicapped spaces

By Jessica Cilella

A Streamwood man is raising eyebrows with his recent delivery of letters to local businesses demanding they either pay him damages for not having handicapped parking spaces or face a lawsuit.

Deputy Police Chief Jim Gremo said a complaint was filed Wednesday by Streamwood Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Donna Lenhardt after the organization received a letter from Andrew Straw, an attorney licensed in Indiana and Virginia who moved to the village earlier this year.

According to the police report, Lenhardt filed the complaint because she believed Straw's request was a scam.

Straw wrote in the letter that he is a "qualified individual with a disability" because he has mobility impairments from a near-death car crash. The letter demands each business pay Straw $5,000 by Sept. 5 and make their premises handicapped-accessible by Oct. 27, otherwise he plans to take civil rights legal action at the state and federal level.

"Your business simply excludes disabled people with mobility impairments by not providing them dedicated, marked spots," he wrote. "I have a handicap parking placard due to the injuries to my legs and hip, so the violations affect me."

Straw said he has sent a total of 13 letters this week to businesses in the Hillbrook Square shopping center -- where the Chamber of Commerce is located -- and Parkview Plaza. Both centers are near the corner of Streamwood and Bartlett roads.

Straw said Parkview Plaza has some handicapped parking, but the center's sidewalks don't have curb cuts. Hillbrook Square has no handicapped parking, he said, and the areas in front of the businesses are too narrow for people using wheelchairs to navigate.

"I want where I live to be handicap accessible," he said, calling the access violations he found very basic. "This isn't about a building code; this is about civil rights."

Lenhardt called Straw's demands for money "extremely unneighborly," considering he didn't try to "nicely bring it to (the Chamber's) attention" before sending out the letter.

"And the fact that our parking lot is never full makes me wonder why he is concerned that he doesn't have access since there's always spots available," she said.

The landlord for the shopping center -- who is also a lawyer -- is looking into the situation, Lenhardt said.

"If other businesses are receiving the letters, I would urge them to consult their attorneys and not to act until they have legal advice," Lenhardt said.

Police met with Straw after Lenhardt filed the complaint Wednesday, Gremo said. According to the police report, Straw told an officer who visited him at his residence that he is "within his legal rights as a person with disability to file civil litigation and demand a settlement from the businesses on Streamwood Boulevard because of the lack of handicapped parking."

The police report says the status of the case is "administratively closed." Gremo said there are no charges pending, and the department hasn't received complaints from other businesses.

Straw said he didn't contact any of the business owners before sending the letters because he doesn't have any obligation to do so.

"They're breaking the law and they have been for a long time," he said, noting that the American Disabilities Act has been in effect since 1990.

Straw said he plans to send demand letters to additional Streamwood businesses in the near future.

Demands: Lawyer plans to send more letters

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