January 31, 2013

Litchfield van fire one more tragedy for family

Paralyzed woman hoping she won't be without wheels too long

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

The handicap accessible van destroyed by fire Wednesday afternoon at a Litchfield garage was the latest setback for a family that has become all too familiar with them in recent years.

MonaRae Yaede, who was paralyzed by a crash just over a year ago, bought the van in August and was anxious to put it to regular use. Her father, Carlton Lane, called her Thursday morning to deliver the bad news: the van had been destroyed while undergoing final repairs at B-K Auto on Hallowell Road.

"She could hardly contain herself," said Lane, who suffered his own car accident last year and lost much of his right arm. "It blows my mind. It doesn't make any sense."

Mechanics were trying to fix the heat supply at the back of the van when one of the men saw flames coming up from under the hood.

William Kelley, who owns the business, said the men pushed the burning van out the door, which saved the building from being destroyed. But the van was gutted.

Kelley immediately called his insurance company, which had agreed to provide a rental van and would pay for a replacement. Kelley went to work Wednesday afternoon, searching online for a van. By Thursday afternoon Kelley said he had found a few possibilities that he expected would be as good if not better than the original.

"I just have to check them out to see which one is the best," Kelley said.

The van offered Yaede, 45, her first chance at real mobility since December 2011 when her car skidded on black ice and slammed into a utility pole on Hallowell/Litchfield Road in West Gardiner. Yaede, who spent months at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, was left paralyzed from the chest down.

She has spent nine months at the River Ridge Rehabilitation Center in Kennebunk, but still has limited movement in her arms and hands. She is coming to grips that there will likely be little improvement, Lane said.

A month after Yaede's crash last year, Lane, 77, was critically injured in an early morning accident in Hartford. He spent weeks in the same hospital as his daughter where they removed his spleen and much of his right arm. Family members believe Lane, fatigued from traveling back and forth to his daughter's bedside, likely fell asleep while driving.

The fire and the car accidents come on top of a string of tragedies that include the 2008 machete attack on Yaede's niece and brother-in-law, Nicole and William Guerrette, inside their Pittston home, that left the father and daughter permanently injured.

Yaede and her family spent six months looking for a van until a nurse at the rehabilitation center told them about a 1996 Dodge Ram van that was already fitted with a raised roof and 1,000-pound lift. The van had 114,000 miles and needed some body work, but at $4,500 the family believed it was blessing.

"We looked for six months," Lane said. "Everyone told us if you just fix the body up a little bit you'll have something that will last her forever."

Family members put another $1,800 toward body work and mechanical repairs to make the van appealing and reliable, Lane said. In between, Yaede was able to go for a ride a few times and was looking forward rides in her search for a new long-term care facility and to her brother's wedding in March.

Lane is anxious to make sure Yaede can keep those plans.

"She finally got a van so she could get out of the facility and at least feel a little human," Lane said. "It's been taken away from her."

Craig Crosby -- 621=5642
ccrosby@centralmaine.com

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