‘Boot Man’ who monitors Aspen parking lots ordered to repay car owner
Aspen’s longtime boot man customarily takes money from people who illegally park their vehicles on private lots. But Wednesday, a judge ordered Brit Queer to pay $100 to a woman whose car he was about to immobilize with a boot last year.
Following a near 20-minute small-claims trial in Pitkin County Court, Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely determined that Queer’s jaws of justice actually were an injustice to plaintiff Christine Kemp, a Basalt woman who sued him June 20 after he booted her vehicle.
Queer charged the woman, whose car was parked behind Explore Booksellers, $200 to not boot her vehicle. She paid the fee but told the judge she had simply dashed in and out of the bookstore — about a 10-minute round-trip, she claimed — when she spotted Queer poised clamp her car.
“As soon as I came out he was standing there,” she said. “It was a matter of running in and out of the store. I begged him and said, ‘Please, I’m leaving now.’”
The judge split the difference, citing the Colorado Public Utilities Commissions’ “drop fees,” which are what towing companies are legally required to charge motorists who return to their illegally parked vehicle before it is towed away. Fernandez-Ely said she could find no local laws that pertain to drop fees, so she relied on a Denver ordinance as well as the Public Utilities Commission rule. The PUC has a maximum drop fee of $70.
“It seems to me that it goes to the legal issue of mitigating damage,” the judge said. “And if you’re there and somebody shows up and said ‘please stop,’ you had the opportunity to not go through all of that exercise.”
Kemp, an interior designer who also writes children’s books, said she had visited Explore to drop off some books. Realizing she shouldn’t park her car where it was, she thought she could run the quick errand without any repercussions.
“I risked it and that was wrong,” she said, acknowledging that she saw the sign warning drivers not to park there. “I’m not trying to say that I’m right. But when he told me it was $200, I was just so shocked.”
Queer, whose booting business is private, told the judge he believed the woman had been in Explore for about 15 minutes.
“I remember seeing the car there before I went to it, then I went to Clark’s Market to check their parking lot (which he also patrols), and I came back to boot her car, and that’s when she showed up,” he said.
As far as the judge was concerned, however, Queer could have been more accommodating to the woman.
“I think you should give her back $100, half of it,” the judge said, “because she did get there before you went through the exercise.”
After the trial, Queer cut a $100 check to Kemp. She said she didn’t want to sue Queer — this was her first time in court, she said — but believed the charge was simply too exorbitant.
An Aug. 1-dated letter Kemp wrote to the judge, which is part of the case file, said, “I decided to take this matter up before you because I feel this charge is extreme. I looked online and the fees for a boot in Denver start at 40.00 dollars. This is HIS business and I had no other person to go to but small claims. I work very hard for 200.00 dollars, out of principal, with never having done this before, please consider my case.”
The even-keeled Queer has been booting cars in some of Aspen’s private lots for more than three decades. He’s immobilized cars belonging to working locals and the moneyed types, as well, including Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. He once booted the late writer Hunter S. Thompson, whose car was parked behind Mezzaluna restaurant. Thompson, as Queer once recalled, rallied the patrons at the Mezzaluna bar to revolt against Queer. In an act of defiance, Thompson even massaged Queer’s car with a golf club, but came around and paid the boot-removal fee.
After the trial, Queer said he might be winding down his business, but he has said that before.
“I’m done,” he said.
With many lingering questions still surrounding the fate of Aspen’s historic Old Powerhouse, City Council decided during Monday’s work session to hold off on providing staff direction on moving the preservation project forward until more information can be presented.