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Car’s gone, but payments aren’t for retiree

10-5-04, Robert Lewis Jr., whose auto was towed by the city for parking tickets and because it wasn't caimed within 2 weeks, it was sold. He is still paying off the car and the tickets.... 6401 s Yale. Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

Robert Lewis, a 73-year-old retired janitor, sits in his apartment in a Chicago Housing Authority high-rise, wondering why he’s paying for a car he no longer owns.

He wonders why the city would take the car he bought for $2,200, sell it and not give him any credit toward his parking tickets and other fees. He owed the city $1,100 at the time.

The city took his car “and did what they want with it,” said Lewis, who thinks that sounds a lot like car theft. “It looks like to me that’s what they did with it. Stole it.

“I don’t think I can get that car back, no way.

“I feel betrayed by them,” Lewis said of the city. “What chance have I got?”

Lewis admits he should have paid the dozen tickets, which date to 1993. He said he didn’t realize he had as many as he did.

He wanted to work out a payment plan after his blue 1992 Pontiac Sunbird was booted in front of his home in September last year.

The city refused and towed his car the next day, giving him 15 days to pay up or lose his car.

Lewis lost his car.

Then, the city agreed to set up a payment plan — not to get his car back, just to pay off the tickets. Lewis is paying off the tickets at $65 a month.

He’s also still paying $112.76 a month for the Pontiac, even though he’ll never see it again.

He had the car for four months when the city booted and seized it in September 2003 in front of his CHA building, telling him he had to pay more than $1,100 for tickets, towing and storage.

Paying the money upfront was impossible, said Lewis, who gets $1,289 a month from Social Security and his pension. His rent is $322 a month.

The city transferred the car to Environmental Auto Removal in October 2003.

Lewis said he now has only about $500 left to pay on his Pontiac.

He argued that he was penalized “double” by the city — once by fining him for the tickets, then by taking his car and giving him no credit for it.

The car provided Lewis and his wife a degree of independence, allowing them to go, as needed, to the store or the doctor.

Now, he has to beg a ride, pay someone to drive him or take a bus.

“I can’t do what I want to do,” he said.

He has one wish.

“If they gave me my car back, I would be the happiest man in the world,” Lewis said.