Houston Enforcing Law After Blind Traveler Presses Issue

Posted on May 30, 2007 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

HOUSTON — As far as Carl Richardson is concerned, it's bad enough that a limousine driver refused to take him, his wife, and a friend to the airport with their two guide dogs. But what makes the Brighton, Mass., man even more irate is that it has taken 2½ months to get Houston authorities to treat his case seriously and pursue criminal action against the driver.

Richardson, who is blind, said he has had a hard time even convincing police and prosecutors that it's a misdemeanor to refuse a ride to people who use service dogs. And Richardson, who has logged countless phone calls and posted nonstop e-mails to a nationwide online community of guide dog users, has no plans to let the matter drop.

Under Texas law, refusing public transportation to a person with an assistance animal is punishable with a fine of $300 to $1,000. But Richardson said that initially, the police officer investigating the case didn't know there was such a law. Richardson's long-distance tenacity eventually resulted in two citations, which were issued to the driver by the airport division of the Houston Police Department.

However, when the case was turned over to municipal courts, chief prosecutor Randy Zamora said his office had never before dealt with that law, which is part of the state's human resources code. Although Zamora is well aware of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which provides for civil penalties against people who discriminate against the disabled, he hadn't run across the state's criminal statute.

"To be perfectly honest with you," he said, "when they first brought it to my attention, I said, OK, if the officer wrote it, it's probably against the law, but I've never heard of it. Even I — and I do this all the time — had never heard of this." As a result, the case, originally scheduled for trial in late April, was dismissed. Zamora said his office, however, is now planning to refile criminal charges against the driver, Eyad Doleh.

Edward Casanova, the attorney who represents Doleh, said the matter is all a big misunderstanding. The only reason his client wouldn't give them a ride, he said, is because he wasn't aware when he was called that they had two dogs, both Labrador retrievers, and he didn't think there was room in his Lincoln Town Car to safely accommodate everyone.

Richardson and his friend, Joseph Yee, who had the other guide dog, said they were only told that it was against the limousine company's policy to let dogs ride in the car.

Omar Abaid, who owns Houston Limo and Transportation Service, said his company has no policy against dogs as long as they are restrained. He said he offered to send another car to take Richardson's party to the airport, but they insisted that Doleh take them. He said Doleh is an independent driver who owns his own car.

Source: Houston Chronicle

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