Aspen man with ALS, handicap parking pass, gets booted in parking lot

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times
A dispute arose outside the Clark's Market parking lot Wednesday when an Aspen restaurant manager, who suffers from ALS, had his vehicle booted.
Erica Robbie/The Aspen Times |

A local man who suffers from ALS contacted Aspen police Wednesday mid-afternoon upon discovering that his vehicle had been booted, despite having a handicap parking permit hanging from his rearview mirror.

Michael Donine, a manager at Bangkok Happy Bowl Thai Bistro in the North Mill Street building that houses Clark’s Market, said he was not parked in a handicap space at the request of the property manager, Jeff Watkins.

According to Donine, Watkins approached him at Happy Bowl last week and politely asked him to park “north of the handicap” spaces, which are located at the front of the parking lot nearest the plaza.

Donine speculated this was because, as a manager of the restaurant, he often occupies a single space for several hours at a time.

“He was being nice (at that time last week). ‘I’ll look the other way’ were his exact words,’” Donine said, as long as he had his handicap parking pass.

Donine, who said he was diagnosed with ALS in August and received a parking permit around the same time, claimed to have informed Watkins of his condition during their interaction “about a week ago.”

“I’ve got a problem where I can’t walk without falling over,” Donine said. “If I have a problem walking and I need to park in a handicap spot, I need to park in a handicap spot.”

Watkins declined to comment or offer his perspective on the situation.

“It’s really fluid. I’m really now just for the first time hearing about ALS,” Watkins said. “I’m learning the facts as they come in.”

Aspen’s “boot man,” Britt Queer, who booted Donine’s vehicle Wednesday, said, “We just try to keep the people who live here and the people who work here toward the back.”

Two police officers left the Clark’s parking lot after a short period, noting the issue was civil and not criminal.

Watkins and Donine continued to argue with each other and failed to reach an agreement on removing the boot.

As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Donine said he was still contemplating what to do with the boot and had taken a taxi to his home in Brush Creek Village.

“I’m considering leaving it there for now,” he said, noting his frustration.

“It doesn’t cost anything (for them) to take that thing off. It’s a key,” Donine said. “In my opinion, it’s telling handicaps they aren’t welcome.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that Britt Queer is a private contractor.