No Courtesy, Professionalism or Respect for the Dead: Funeral Homes Blast Placard Abuse
12:01 AM EDT on June 30, 2022
The only three certainties in life are death, taxes, and placard abuse.
Funeral directors say they have had to postpone and cancel burials, have been unable to pick up dead bodies, and have been unable to carry a casket from the hearse into a church, all thanks to illegal parking that cops don't enforce — ironic, given the NYPD’s militaristic pursuit of keeping the streets clear when it comes to their fallen comrades.
Last week, at least half a dozen NYPD tow trucks hauled away every single car lining Smith Street in Carroll Gardens for six full blocks — with no more than 24 hours of notice — so visiting cops could park in their place, including on the sidewalk. The police also blocked Court Street near St. Mary Star of the Sea Church to allow for the funeral procession of retired Deputy Chief Charles Scholl, whose own friends said was a “full-fledged conspiracy theorist.”
Yet on days when anyone else is laid to rest, the same deference to the dead and their grieving family is not applied.
“Police don't really have any courtesy,” said Brooke-Lynn Pesola, a licensed funeral director at Cobble Hill Chapels. "Only in situations where a member of the NYPD died in action or retired, then they go out of their way. There will be a couple reps from the NYPD to make sure there’s ample parking and blocks are cleared. If we have to respond to a house and pick up a deceased, but we're blocked, we can't find them to move. And we run into this so often. Police are not much help, they don't want to get involved.”
The persistent citywide problem of illegal parking and the abuse of parking placards by city employees, especially cops, who park in front of fire hydrants, in crosswalks, bike lanes, and bus lanes, and even on sidewalks, endangering vulnerable road users, also extends to in front of houses of worship and funeral homes.
So often are cars blocking the Dean Street driveway of Cobble Hill Chapels, just north of St. Mary Star of the Sea where so many police funerals are held, that Pesola says she has had to significantly delay — and even cancel — funerals because her hearse can't get out.
"If you're late going to the cemetery, they will turn you around and tell you to come back the next day. It's really difficult coming from a church mass to go to the burial to get turned away," she said.
Pesola say that unlike their full seizure of public space last week for the convenience of their own parking, members of New York's Finest eventually get around to ticketing illegally parked cars during lay people's funerals, but won’t tow them.
"I just have to wait for the person to come and move it. If it’s a regular car, they will ticket it then we have to call our own tow truck," she told Streetsblog.
It's happening more and more, and is a lengthy and arduous process that makes an already emotional situation even worse, said John Heyer, who owns Scotto Funeral Home on Summit Street.
"I would say once a month ... some random car is parked directly in front of the place to prevent us maneuvering to get the casket out,” said Heyer. “We now have a family who is already grieving and is now upset we haven't shown up with them because someone parked in our driveway essentially.”
Police refusing to tow away cars — even those with dozens of tickets for speeding and reckless driving — is an all-too familiar scenario.
“I have a pretty good relationship with the local precinct," said Heyer. "They don’t have their own tow trucks come out. You’re stuck and they’re not allowed to tell you whose car it is. If the car is registered in Ohio or even the Bronx, you're stuck."
Heyer says he often rides his bike to get around, but obviously needs a car to do his job — at all hours of the day and night, seven days a week.
“I can't ride my bike to pick someone's mom up in their home. We need our vehicle,” he said.
And in instances of placard abuse, it’s even more difficult a problem to resolve because the police won’t ticket those cars. Once, Pesola said, a car belonging to a Department of Education employee was left in front of her driveway for over a month. She had to wait for the person to move it.
“It blocked our driveway for six weeks straight, no one would ticket it," she said.
According to logs of 311 complaints shared with Streetsblog, Pesola filed one against the car on Sept. 9, 2019. But the city closed it about 14 hours later despite taking no action — a common practice among the NYPD when it comes to complaints about driver misconduct.
"The Police Department responded to the complaint and determined that police action was not necessary," according to the city's record.
The car didn't move for weeks. And it came back for several days again in 2020, said Pesola.
“I called the police department every day for a month straight," she said.
And Heyer says he once had to carry a casket, which can weigh more than 200 pounds, for several dozen feet because of cars with expired placards on their dash parked in front of St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church on Sackett Street, where he was holding a funeral.
“I see everything from handicapped to emergency Covid parking placards," he said. "I don’t know who these people are. I’ve had to carry a casket for half a block because a curb cut was the only place where there wasn't a car.”
The owner and director of F.G. Guido Funeral Home on Clinton Street has had a similar experience. She says the problem is so bad that she and her colleagues have had to physically lift up the several-hundred pound caskets over illegally parked cars right in front of the building because they prevent them from properly maneuvering the coffin.
Not only is it undignifying to the mourning family standing right there, but it's also dangerous, says Maria-Ray Guido, who added that it’s an accident waiting to happen.
“We have to lift caskets over the cars. It’s very dangerous,” said Guido, who added that it’s an accident waiting to happen. “And it’s gonna be on the city."
There’s currently a “No Parking” sign already out front, but it is frequently ignored, according to Guido. One of the recurrent scofflaws is the “rather aggressive” owner of a Ram pick-up truck who routinely parks in front of the funeral home and refuses to move. When Streetsblog visited the location near Carroll Street on Tuesday, the truck was parked illegally. It has a placard on its dash that expired in March, 2022.
And the plate associated with the car has also racked up 17 tickets for speeding in school zones since 2020, including 14 so far this year and last, according to the database How's My Driving.
“He won’t even move it for me for funerals," said Guido.
Guido says she’s also put up her own signs asking people not to park there — even those with valid placards — since it's right in front of a funeral home, but they "just rip them up, they don't care.”
She says she’s called 311 over 100 times, in addition to the local precinct, and had even dealt with the late Chief Scholl himself over the issue, who Guido says was a “great guy, an honorable man.”
“He was the person I would always call,” she said.
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Julianne Cuba joined Streetsblog in February, 2019, after three years covering local news and politics at The Brooklyn Paper. There, she also covered the notoriously reckless private carting industry and hit-and-runs. A 2015 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism Master’s Program, she lives in Brooklyn. Julianne is on Twitter at @julcuba. Email Julianne at email@example.com
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