Knoxville family in need of new wheelchair-accessible van


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A Knoxville family is in desperate need of a wheelchair lift and a van that can transport two adults and their wheelchairs. The family has had a hard enough time dealing with medical protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, their latest setback, their van was wrecked.

It’s tough enough when one member of a family is disabled, but even more difficult when two people are in wheelchairs. That’s what it is like for Billy Smith, his wife, and their daughter. About four years ago, Smith bought a used, high roof cargo van that was in good shape. It was totaled three weeks ago. Now, the family is dependent on public transportation.

Jean and Billy Smith and their daughter Carol are stuck at home now without any personal transportation. Jean has muscular dystrophy. She’s unable to leave her bed without help. Her daughter Carol was born with Cerebral Palsy. She and her mother have separate caregivers at their home. Billy affectionately calls himself the “designated driver” taking his wife and daughter to doctor’s appointments and to church.

But on July 24, Billy got into an accident, the high roof van he used to transport his family was totaled.
There was a power lift that Billy had installed in the back of the van so, his wife and daughter could easily leave the van in their wheelchairs secured by the lift.

Billy says, “Yes, you just open the door and it’s just one of those and it just comes down on the ground, then you raise it up level and push it in.”

The van was big enough for Jean and Carol’s wheelchairs, along with the lift. The van, according to Jean, is their lifeline, and without it, they’re stuck at home. Billy said the lift was never removed from the van which is now at a junkyard in Madisonville.

Jean says, “That van was really very valuable to us because it took us to the doctor, it took us to the church, it took us to the grocery store, any place we had to go that van took us because it was equipped for me and carol both.”

Billy says he and Jean have been going back and forth with their insurance provider trying to negotiate a better lump sum payout than initially provided. Jean says the insurance isn’t really cooperating and they could give them $13,000, but wouldn’t give any money for a new lift. A lift is around $9,000. However, the insurance company’s latest cash offer for the van was raised the day of our visit.

Jean says, “They are telling us that they will give us 14,500 and that’s all they will give us. But nowhere in the email has he mentioned that he will give us anything for the lift.”

The Smiths believe their lift was damaged when the van was moved by the wrecker company. Billy says he may be able to find another van for $15,000, but paying $9,000 out of their own pocket for a lift and installing it is beyond their means.

Jean adds, ” I just want another van that is dependable so, we can go to the doctor and we can go to church.”

Presently, the Smiths depend on public transportation, but it’s dependable. They say often they have to wait to be picked up at their home, or at the doctor’s offices, and considering their disabilities, they say waiting is not convenient.

Apparently, their insurance company is not going to budge on its updated offer.

This is a developing story. Download the WATE 6 News app for updates sent to your phone.

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