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This Saab has been parked in this spot near the entrance to the commissary at Benjamin Franklin Village in Mannheim, Germany, for at least a month.

This Saab has been parked in this spot near the entrance to the commissary at Benjamin Franklin Village in Mannheim, Germany, for at least a month. (Greg Davis / Courtesy to S&S)

There’s a BMW parked in front of the dry cleaners, a Dodge Neon in front of the shoppette, a Saab in front of the commissary and a Mini Cooper in a handicapped spot across from the post office.

Without license plates, bearing tickets so old the writing has faded away, orange warning stickers and/or notices that the license plates have been confiscated — and at least one with a flat tire — all these vehicles appear to be abandoned. And all appear to be abandoned in prime parking spots that drivers like Greg Davis could really use.

“They’ve just been there, rotting for over a month,” said Davis, 35, and a former U.S. Air Force sergeant who’s been on a luckless mission for weeks to get the cars towed.

“Personally, I think it’s a lackadaisical attitude,” he said. “People say, ‘It’s not my job.’ I heard that three times in a row.”

Davis, who was a military combat photographer and was assigned to work for Stars and Stripes in South Korea three years ago, said he knows the cars aren’t the world’s biggest problem. But they are annoying.

Now a freelance photographer and full-time househusband, Davis does his errands accompanied by his 9-month-old daughter. Every time he goes to the cleaners, commissary or shoppette, he must remove his daughter from her car seat and take her with him. It’s a lot easier if the parking spot is close, especially when his daughter is asleep, he said.

But so far, Davis, who said he noticed two more apparently abandoned cars in housing areas on Friday, has gotten little response.

“I’ve talked to a number of MPs (military police). I’ve mentioned it to the shoppette manager. I talked to the area installation coordinator, and when he didn’t have any answers, I talked to the deputy commander of Army Garrison Mannheim,” Davis said.

The shoppette manager said he’d never noticed the car, Davis said. The area installation coordinator, he said, told him it costs $35 to tow each car and has to be done through morale, welfare and recreation.

The garrison deputy commander, Davis said, reached by phone, “wanted to know who I was and where I worked. ... I asked if he was supposed to take care of these cars. He said, ‘I don’t take care of abandoned cars.’”

Last week, Davis said he met with Lt. Col. Melissa Sturgeon, U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim commander, to discuss his concerns about the cars.

“She told me she understood the problem … and the reality is the garrison is out of money,” Davis said.

“It’s a money issue, she said, and it’s a manning issue, and they don’t want to tow somebody’s car and find out it’s not abandoned,” he said.

Davis said Sturgeon also told him it costs $75 to tow each car.

But the process to remove an abandoned car has nothing to do with the budget, according to Kim Walz, chief of public affairs for the Installation Management Agency-Europe. In fact, USAREUR has a regulation specifically to deal with the issue.

According to Army in Europe Regulation 190-1, once a vehicle is determined to be abandoned, the car’s owner is given a 24-hour warning notice to move the vehicle. If the car isn’t moved, then the car is moved to a holding lot and a series of steps is taken to identify the vehicle’s owner. According to the regulation, once all of these steps have been taken, the car ends up at the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, where it is disposed of.

Italian officials believe they have found a solution to the same problem. On March 1, the Naples-based Central Motor Vehicle Registration Office announced that servicemembers could no longer use a power of attorney to sell cars. The thinking, according to Lt. Cmdr. David Murree, was too many people were leaving “junkers” behind.

Back in Germany, Sieg Heppner, a USAG Mannheim spokesman, said the base doesn’t have a problem with abandoned cars.

“They don’t stay around very long,” Heppner said.

Furthermore, he said, perhaps the cars aren’t really abandoned.

“The fact you’ve seen a car doesn’t mean anything,” he said. Someone could have left a car in front of the shoppette, for example, while on deployment.

“If you’re on sick leave for a month, you wouldn’t expect [your car] to be towed away,” he said.

Heppner directed questions to Gregory Terry, director of logistics. But reached by phone, Terry said, “I’m not the one to talk to. The deputy garrison commander would be. I don’t tow abandoned vehicles.”

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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