UMKC student Ryan Kempker’s wheelchair-accessible truck was stolen from the Cherry Street Parking Garage last week.
KCPD officers located the vehicle, but not before the modifications that allow Kempker to drive it were significantly damaged.
“I’m lost for words. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Kempker, a second-year business administration student in the Bloch School of Management. “The equipment on it is really no use to anyone. What are they going to get out of this? Nothing.”
Kempker was headed to physical therapy when he discovered his truck was missing from the fourth floor of the parking garage. Kempker contacted campus police, who confirmed through surveillance footage that the truck was stolen Sunday, Nov. 10 around 6 a.m.
“According to them, the footage shows that a car pulls up, two men get out of the vehicle, go up to the truck, bust the window, some time goes by and then, boom, they are out with the truck,” said Kempker. “I still haven’t gotten to see the footage.”
Ever since a car accident in 2006 left Kempker paralyzed from the waist down, the truck, a customized GMC Duramax diesel, has helped him stay mobile and independent, with a lift that raises him into the driver’s seat, a crane that retrieves his wheelchair and sets it in the back of the truck and hand controls to operate the gas and brakes.
“The truck does everything,” said Kempker. “It takes me to therapy; it takes me wherever I need to go, by myself, independently.”
Kempker hardly recognized the recovered truck when he went to see it at the city tow lot.
“The wheelchair lift was unbolted and stolen off the back, and there was damage to the cab and the bed,” Kempker said. “The driver side window was busted out. The rear passenger side window was busted. The spare tire was put on it so they must have blown a tire out. They stole my sound system and navigation system.”
The thieves also stole Kempker’s arm cycle from the back of the truck. He was using the cycle to train for a Spartan race next summer.
Kempker estimated the cost of damages and stolen items easily exceeds $20,000.
In response to the crime, the Kansas City community has rallied to support Kempker.
One Kansas Citian, Patrick Mallahan, heard about Kempker’s situation through Facebook and launched into action, creating a GoFundMe page to help cover the cost of damages to the truck.
“I knew time was of the essence, so I acted as quickly as possible,” said Manahan. “It took me less than five minutes to set up the page for him and I picked $10,000 as a starting point because it was half the cost of the upgrades that he had already paid out in the past.”
The goal of $10,000 was reached in under 24 hours, and the page has since raised a total of more than $14,000 thanks to over 600 shares and 300 donations.
“To take advantage of someone like Ryan is deplorable,” said Mallahan. “We’re not going to let bad people ruin the reputation of all the great people that live in Kansas City. Time and time again I see examples of random strangers stepping up to help one another.”
In another act of support, a group of patrons from KC Tint Works have begun repairing the damages to the vehicle.
“We are going to fix everything they’ve messed up on that truck and then some, out of pocket,” said Eric Martin, owner of KC Tint Works. His goal is to finish the truck by Friday.
“If we have to work around the clock, that’s what we are going to do,” said Martin.
Martin hopes the money from the GoFundMe page will still go to Kempker.
“We’re just trying to make things better for him,” said Martin. “It’s bad enough when people steal, but when you’re doing it from someone that you know is handicapped, that’s crazy.”
After hearing about Kempker’s story, the CEO of Spartan Race reached out and offered to replace the stolen arm cycle.
Kempker said the overwhelming support and love from the community has been a huge blessing.
“It’s awesome,” Kempker said. “You don’t feel alone. You feel a little safer. With any negative situation, there’s always a positive, and that’s what you have to focus on.”
UMKC Police and KCPD have no further information about the ongoing investigation of the crime at this time.