Elderly get their cars towed from apartment lot -- with a happy ending

This may be the first time in recorded history that people have retrieved their cars from an impound lot without being charged.

This may be the first time in recorded history that people have retrieved their cars from an impound lot without being charged. Anthony Souffle

Residents at Trinity on Lake apartments, a Longfellow Section 8 housing project occupied by seniors and people with disabilities, woke up Sunday morning to that gut-wrenching realization that their cars had been abducted.

Heavy snows triggered snow emergencies that had buried their parking lot, which was also used by the neighboring Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, which co-owns the apartments with the Community Housing Development Corporation and the Greater Minneapolis Housing Corporation. To prepare for Sunday morning's Swahili and English language congregations, cars left overnight outside of reserved residential parking -- an area that makes up about one-third of the lot -- were towed away.

The problem was, residents who normally parked overnight in the other two-thirds of the lot weren't told to move their cars, says Deanna Olson, whose mother only escaped a trip to the impound lot because a neighbor knocked on her door early in the morning to warn her the tow trucks were at work. One elderly resident came out in the snow with his cane, only to find his car gone with the price of a $215 ransom.

"You have people who need to grocery shop, they need to get their medicine," Olson says. "And these are older cars. Anytime you tow something there can be a risk of damaging the vehicle. ... This is just an awful situation to have happen to the elderly."

Five other residents confronted Holy Trinity's pastor, Ingrid Rasmussen, after her service ended at around noon. When Rasmussen explained that it was technically illegal to park overnight in nonresidential spaces, those residents complained that Trinity's management failed to mention that to them.

"We felt badly about that. [BDC Management] felt badly about that as well," Rasmussen said.

BDC Management immediately called Cedar Towing and asked for the cars to be released at no charge to the residents, the pastor said. A church member volunteered to drive residents to the impound lot, and everyone who went Holy Trinity Lutheran Church got their cars back that afternoon.

Sunday's towing mixup was the result of an unfortunate series of coincidences, Rasmussen said -- a six-inch snow on a Saturday night before church and an apparent communication breakdown between the apartment management and residents.

The management company didn't respond for comment, but Rasmussen said they promised to call each tenant to make sure everyone had the proper parking information.