'It seems crazy:' woman's scooter sold while she's still recovering in hospital

Denise Chew riding her scooter. (KOMO)

TUKWILA, Wash. -- For all the times Denise Chew has helped others, she's now in need of help herself.

The Tukwila nurse was on her way to work at Group Health in Seattle when she crashed her Vespa on May 20th. Investigators are still trying to determine what happened between the scooter and the tracks of the First Hill Streetcar at 12th Avenue S. and South Jackson Street, said Det. Mark Jamieson of the Seattle Police Department,

"I know that there's some streetcar tracks there," Jamieson said. "She may have hit that and spilled."

The impact of the crash knocked Chew unconscious. She spent about a week at Harborview Medical Center on a ventilator, friends say. Doctors are still trying to assess how much brain trauma she sustained.

"The first three days she was in the hospital she was not able to speak. She was on a ventilator. She couldn't breathe," said friend Kristin Donovan. "They were keeping her pretty heavily sedated. She couldn't communicate with us at all."

With Chew unable to advocate for herself -- and her only family in Oklahoma -- Donovan tracked down Chew's brand new scooter. She found it at a tow yard in Tukwila the day after the crash.

Donovan brought her friend's license and registration. She also brought a credit card to pay the tow fees.

What she found, she said, was unexpected red tape.

Lincoln Towing told Donovan they needed the registered owner to sign off on releasing the car.

"She's unconscious. Do I take her hand and scribble it?" Donovan said. "I'm shocked. Totally shocked."

With Chew recovering in the hospital, the bigger surprise, Donovan said, came this past Saturday.

"I kept waiting for [Denise] to get to a place where she's mentally capable signing the paperwork," Donovan said. "And that's when the fellow who purchased the Vespa at auction showed up looking for the keys to it."

Turns out the two-week old scooter was sold Saturday by the tow yard that had been holding it. State law mandates that tow lots send at least two letters to registered owners before selling a car, said Det. Josh Sweeney. If the vehicle is unclaimed, is not listed as stolen, or is held by law enforcement, it can be sold.

"In reality it ends up being 21 days' [notice]," Sweeney said.

Saturday was 22 days after Chew's crash. She remains in the hospital.

"There was no [law enforcement] hold," said Chuck Labertew, a manager at Lincoln Towing, of Chew's scooter.

Labertew provided documents showing the company sent two notices to Chew, including a certified letter with the required minimum notification. He said if friends had contacted company management, he would've postponed the auction.

"It's a motorcycle. Chances are she hit her head. It's simple. But unless I know someone is trying to do something, I can't help anybody," Labertew said. "The clerk is [asking for signed documents] that's because this is a company policy."

"It is grounded in the law," he continued. "But there are certain other things a manager can do -- change the date of the auction, give them more time."

Labertew said there was nothing he could do now that the Vespa had been sold.

"It seems crazy to me. There should be something in place where if someone's in an accident -- and police knew it was an accident -- someone should've notified the tow company to hold onto that bike," Donovan said.

"There's nothing that specifically addresses [victims in hospitals]," Det. Sweeney added. "The insurance company can claim the vehicle, but that usually requires some communication between the insurance company and the legal owner."

Friends have started a gofundme campaign to help with medical bills and more. It would've easily covered the impound fees, Donovan said.

"Now Denise is out a brand new bike that was two weeks old and it's unfortunate," Donovan said.

"The laws seem to be in place to protect the businesses," she continued, "not the people that are being hurt."

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