Thief takes bridge to life, so friends build another

Wheelchair ramp was Parkland man’s key to independence

Staff WriterApril 2, 2014 

Bart Rowley of Parkland, who lost the use of his legs in a truck accident in 2008, spent last Friday trapped in his house after thieves stole his aluminum wheelchair ramp. Alexa, 7, the daughter of Cheri Kriesel, left, Rowley’s caretaker, stained the new ramp that a friend built.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

The most vulnerable among us — the elderly, the young, the gullible — have long been targets of scammers, thieves and other miscreants.

In Parkland last week, someone reached another low point in criminal behavior. They stole Bart Rowley’s wheelchair ramp.

“You’re talking about stealing from the vulnerable and taking what they need most,” Tacoma attorney Patrick Palace said. “When Bart called me, he was literally shut in his home — he couldn’t get out.”

Rowley, 55, has been fighting to overcome the aftermath of an accident that nearly killed him Aug. 14, 2008. Driving a semi-trailer in Tukwila, Rowley collided at high speed with a bridge abutment, Palace said.

“I have no idea what happened,” Rowley said. “I was in a coma for 45 days, in the hospital for 60 and in a nursing home for about five years. I just moved out last year.

“I lost a lot of things in that accident. I’m paralyzed from the belly button down. One thing I didn’t lose was my mind. Along the way, a lot of good people have helped me.

“I’m not bitter. A lot of people have it worse. I’m still chugging.”

Money is an issue, and Palace is handling the former trucker’s case with the state Department of Labor & Industries. Friends have purchased a telephone service for Rowley and helped him buy the aluminum wheelchair ramp that gave him access to the world from his front door.

“I have a power chair that has to have a ramp to get up and down stairs,” Rowley said. “It’s my car, my wheels. Not having a ramp, that was like stealing my bridge to freedom.”

The ramp was stolen from his home along 96th Street South sometime between Thursday night and Friday morning last week. It wasn’t hard to do.

“We’re right on the street here, and someone driving by during the day could have spotted it and come back at night,” Rowley said. “They took it right off the front porch, through the front gate and left the gate open. It’s probably no more than 10 yards to the road.

“When I saw it was gone, I panicked,” Rowley said. “Those ramps can cost anywhere from $400 to $600, and I didn’t have the money.”

What he did have was caregiver Cheri Kriesel.

The day Rowley awakened to find his ramp gone, Kriesel started working the telephone, connecting with Walt Edwards, the father of a good friend. Edwards is a retired carpenter.

“I got the call about noon or 1 o’clock,” Edwards said. “I finished the ramp up by 5 p.m.”

That’s right, the same day the ramp was stolen, a new one was built. No, it’s not mobile, but it’s also not likely to be taken away easily.

Edwards charged only for the materials, about $200. Kriesel paid him.

“They’re friends, people I know,” Edwards said. “Anybody asks for help, I’m around.”

Caregiver Kriesel said acting fast was a natural response, given the circumstances.

“Bart is a good guy. He could feel sorry for himself but doesn’t,” she said. “He’s pretty active. Bart will take a bus, go to the store, get out. Without that ramp, he was stuck in the house.”

The speed with which the new ramp was constructed left Rowley with just a taste of what might have been desperation.

”I was stuck in the house one day and was panicky,” he said. “I talked to a security installer who said he knew of two other cases like this. Apparently, the aluminum ramps can be used by ATV owners to load their vehicles. Or maybe it was stolen and sold for scrap metal.

“I don’t know what makes people do that. Maybe it’s like stealing copper wire. They’re stealing from people who can’t stop them. If I’d been sitting on the porch, I couldn’t have done anything.”

The ramp, Rowley said, is his bridge to normalcy.

“Mine is not a real spectacular life. This is no way to retire,” he said. “With the ramp, I can shop for myself, I can go to the park, just go around the block, see neighbors. That’s what someone took from me. It’s what Cheri and Walt gave me back.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com

The News Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service