John Seewer

CLEVELAND: A driver who stopped to give a couple of bucks to a panhandler in a wheelchair at a busy freeway interchange was handed a $344 littering ticket by a Cleveland police officer after the cash fell to the ground.

The driver, who’s now fighting the ticket, said he can’t believe his attempt to help someone in need might cost him a lot more.

“It’s turned into a big hassle,” John Davis of Elyria told WJW-TV after he pleaded not guilty to the minor misdemeanor Tuesday in court. He is due back in court today, when he hopes the ticket will be thrown out.

The panhandler was at a busy intersection during rush hour May 17. It’s illegal to solicit or give money at the side of a road, Cleveland police said.

“It’s a huge safety issue,” police spokeswoman Jennifer Ciaccia said. “The main issue was where it occurred.”

Davis could have been ticketed for donating to a panhandler, but instead was cited for littering from a vehicle, which carries a bigger fine.

Ciaccia said she could not talk about why the officer handed out the littering ticket now that the issue is in court.

The man in the wheelchair was not cited for panhandling, but he has been many times in the past at the same spot and along other roads, Ciaccia said.

Davis could not be reached for comment Wednesday. There was no current home telephone listing, and court records did not list whether he has an attorney.

Cleveland police said they’ve received a lot of questions about the issue.

“Although we certainly understand the confusion regarding this situation, it is important to understand that the media and social media discussions primarily represent only the statement of the individual who received the citation,” a statement said. “He will have an opportunity to contest the citation in court and the officer will be required to justify the citation.”