Van stolen from woman with ALS found in Fremont

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A special van that's custom designed for people with disabilities and was stolen from a Fremont couple's driveway was found thanks to an alert ABC7 News viewer. (KGO-TV)

A Fremont couple got some great news -- all because of a story that ABC7 News reporter Elissa Harrington did during the newscast at 11 a.m. on Wednesday. Phil and Kay Thomas' van, that's custom designed for people with disabilities, was stolen from their driveway earlier this week. It was then discovered Wednesday afternoon by an alert ABC7 News viewer living about 2.5 miles away from couple's house.

"He walks out of his house, into the parking lot, and looks at the license plate, and immediately called the Fremont police," Phil said. "So if it wasn't for the news segment this morning, we would never have found the car."

ABC7 News viewer helps find van belonging to woman with ALS

The $65,000 van is specially equipped for Kay, who has ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease. Police told the couple that it appears the van might have been used to transport stolen goods from a burglary.

Phil says the inside is a bit trashed, with remnants of a fast food burger bag in the back and plastic bags that the couple doesn't recognize.

Trash was found in a van that was found after being stolen from a woman with ALS in Fremont, Calif. in April 2015.


The front windshield is cracked and the wheelchair lift appears to be broken. Phil says his insurance carrier should cover the repairs.

Phil and Kay are both retired veterans and the van is their only means of transportation.

The wheelchair ramp is broken in a van that was found after being stolen from a woman with ALS in Fremont, Calif. in April 2015.


Phil helps translate for Kay, who has trouble speaking. Through him, she said, "I try to get out of the house as often as I can. Go shopping, go banking, do the things anybody would normally do. But without the van, I don't have an alternative mode of transportation."

Phil adds, "Our granddaughter is here, with a week off of school. We were planning on going to go to Monterey Bay and having some excursions. But obviously without the van, Kay is stuck here in the house."

ABC7 News first met the couple last year, when reporter Alan Wang did the Ice Bucket Challenge. Video shows Phil dumping the water over his head.

Kay has been living with ALS for 13 years. It's also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing patients to lose their ability to move, speak, swallow, and eventually breathe. There is no cure.

The van was reported stolen sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning and it was recovered Wednesday afternoon.

Phil and Kay Thomas asked the public to help find a van that's specially designed for people with disabilities that was stolen from their Fremont, Calif. home in April 2015.


Phil had something special to say to the person who found the van. He looked into the camera and said, "I'd like to say thank you. You have made the day for us, both my wife and myself. So I hope you're watching the evening news!"

ABC7 News later spoke to the Good Samaritan who found the stolen van in the parking lot of his apartment complex in Fremont. Todd Sizer said, "I just memorized the brief description on the news and I quickly checked. I have a tendency to know what cars fit right in this neighborhood and that wasn't one of them."

Another Good Samaritan also stepped in. Classic Vans of Hayward is not only doing the repairs, but they lent the Thomas family one of their specialized vans in the meantime.

The outreach for this story was amazing. In fact, several other ABC7 News viewers also called in and offered their vans too.

It just shows how caring people and just a little bit of communication can make a big difference.

For more information about ALS, please visit www.alsagoldenwest.org.

Related Topics:
alsdisabilitydisability issuestransportationhondatheftstolen carcrimepoliceinvestigationice bucket challengegood samaritanFremontHayward
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