World War II vet takes on the police
By ANDREW MCGINN
This ain’t your grandfather’s Rascal.
Wendell Lindahl scoots around town on the Ferrari of electric mobility scooters.
His prevalence on city streets this summer has pit Jefferson police against the 91-year-old World War II veteran whose only mode of transportation is the powered chair.
“It’s about his independence,” son Allen Lindahl, 63, said Tuesday, “and this officer says he should have none.”
The elder Lindahl was ticketed in August for no valid driver’s license after he made a run one Monday night to Hy-Vee from his home on South Maple Street for bread and peanut butter.
Citing a lack of resources to fight the ticket, Wendell Lindahl paid $330 in fines and court costs Aug. 30.
“I call that legalized thievery,” Wendell Lindahl said.
Police needed to send a message to Mr. Lindahl reportedly following multiple discussions with him, according to Chief Mark Clouse.
“I don’t want to house-rid a guy,” Clouse said. “We tried to work with him. In the interest of public safety, we have to step up.”
What’s particularly at issue is Lindahl’s use of the scooter on Highway 4, known through town as Elm Street.
The congregate meal site in Jefferson for older residents is the Greenewood Community Center on the south edge of town — an area lacking sidewalks.
Mr. Lindahl had been using his scooter to access the meal site. Elm Street is the only paved route.
“Jefferson is failing to accommodate these citizens,” said Allen Lindahl, who lives in Perry. “Dad isn’t the only one who goes to congregate meals on his chair.”
Meals can be delivered to housebound residents, but Mr. Lindahl said the quality isn’t the same.
“It’s not like sitting down getting a plate of food,” Allen Lindahl said.
Police have told him to use sidewalks to Grauer Street, and then to use the grassy shoulder from there to Greenewood Road — but the steep shoulder presents a tipping hazard to Mr. Lindahl’s three-wheeled scooter.
Clouse said Tuesday he’d rather pick Mr. Lindahl up off the grass than from underneath a semi.
“We’re not trying to be mean,” Clouse said. “We’re trying to protect him.”
The Lindahls see it as limiting his freedom.
A widower who served as a gunner’s mate aboard a Navy landing ship during World War II, Mr. Lindahl gave up driving years ago, but is still able to live on his own.
A Bayard native who retired from Oscar Mayer in Perry, Mr. Lindahl has resided in Jefferson since 1996.
He acquired his mobility scooter last fall.
Mr. Lindahl said it travels 18 mph, but Clouse said his officer the night of Aug. 14 observed Lindahl driving in excess of 30 mph.
Allen Lindahl concedes his elderly father shouldn’t have been out after dark the night he scooted across town to Hy-Vee.
“Dad does a lot of napping during the day and has trouble sleeping at night,” Allen Lindahl said.
For his part, Mr. Lindahl said “there wasn’t a soul around” on his trip to Hy-Vee and back. He was stopped about 9:15 p.m. at his house.
Mr. Lindahl said he’s also used the scooter to travel to Grand Junction and Jamaica. The battery has a 45-minute charge.
It has tested Jefferson police’s informal policy on mobility scooters.
While golf carts are permitted on city streets by local ordinance — just not on Elm Street or after dark — there’s no such provision for mobility scooters, Clouse said.
They’re technically illegal in Iowa to operate on the street, he said.
However, Clouse said his department has in the past been willing to give a pass to riders of mobility scooters, provided they have an orange flag and stay off Elm Street and Lincoln Way, “in the interest of letting people have freedom in their life,” Clouse said.
“We have a pretty good percentage of people in Jefferson that that is their only means of transportation,” he said.
Most people who ride them don’t have driver’s licences, Clouse said.
Allen Lindahl said the officer the evening of his father’s citation took “liberties” with his dad.
Mr. Lindahl is free to continue using his scooter on streets, Clouse said, and he can cross Elm Street and Lincoln Way.
“We have had numerous complaints on Wendell,” Clouse said.
His scooter faces impound if seen on Elm Street or Lincoln Way, he added.
The night of his citation, Mr. Lindahl said the officer told him to “keep it off the streets.”
“I was so upset I just stayed home,” he said.
Allen Lindahl said he investigated the police’s suggestion to take the grassy shoulder to Greenewood.
As he was checking it out, he was dismayed to see an older woman on a three-wheel bicycle come pedaling down Elm Street.
“He’s not the only one having trouble getting there,” he said.