PIEDMONT, Okla. — A paralyzed Iraq war veteran is making expensive payments on an SUV he is unable to drive; it’s several states away.
He hired a company to convert it to be able to carry a wheelchair but he’s still waiting to get it back, seven months later.
Alphonso Lopez was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident after coming home from Iraq in 2005.
What takes most people five seconds takes Lopez five minutes.
We’re talking about getting into a vehicle and driving away.
A crane attached to a pickup truck that a dealership temporarily loaned him moves slowly to pick up his wheelchair and put it in the truck’s bed, outside his Piedmont home.
But it’s worth the wait for Lopez because the freedom of driving down the road keeps him from thinking about what so many other wheelchair-bound veterans consider.
“Worrying about becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict or even attempting suicide,” Lopez said. “You get too depressed, you know? This (driving) is freedom.”
Last fall, Lopez bought a $40,000 pre-owned Chevy Suburban only after he was told it could be converted to carry a wheelchair.
It was shipped by a dealer, Handi-cap Aids, to a company in Indiana called GoShichi.
Lopez said they told him the conversion would take three months.
But they went out of business and were purchased by Mobility SVM, who eventually decided they would not convert a Suburban model for safety concerns.
Seven months later, Lopez is still waiting while making $873 payments every month on a vehicle he said has been held hostage.
“I don’t know how else to feel,” he said. “I mean, I’ve been paying on it for seven months and I was promised three different delivery dates and then they tell me that they can’t do it at all.”
Handi-cap Aids owner Mike Bradshaw said he’s never dealt with an ownership change like this in 31 years.
“I feel like I was the mobility dealer stuck in the middle,” he said. “They eventually (say) they don’t want to convert or they can’t or they won’t convert the Suburban, and then it takes us another month or so to work out the financial logistics.”
Bradshaw said conversions were stopped for at least two months after the ownership change and he’s been negotiating with Mobility SVM to get Lopez a different vehicle.
“It (the wait) put a lot of stress and a lot of weight on my shoulders to try to get around things,” said Lopez.
Monday, Bradshaw told News Channel 4 that Mobility SVM has decided to give Lopez a new pickup truck in exchange for his Suburban.
The VA Hospital in Oklahoma City will pay for that new vehicle’s wheelchair conversion.
Lopez will hopefully be in that truck, Bradshaw said, next week.
The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office advises consumers to gain as much information about a company as you can before doing business.
They also recommend consumers make sure the start/end dates, price and specific work to be done are documented in writing before turning over your vehicle and/or paying for the work to be done.