Photo Contributed Matthew Loring’s wheelchair-accesible van, stolen in Calgary Saturday, Oct. 2, was found in Olds, Alberta on Tuesday. Whether the vehicle is reparable, or expensive equipment inside remains, was still not known Wednesday afternoon.

Van stolen from disabled man

Citizens step up to help couple left stranded after Garth Brooks concert

While he rues the loss of his specialized van, Matthew Loring is celebrating the kindness of family, friends and strangers.

Somewhere between 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2 and early Sunday morning, Loring’s van was stolen from a Calgary parking lot.

Rendered a quadriplegic in a June 12, 2011 diving accident, the 43-year-old was liberated with a 1995 Dodge van purchased with the help of family and friends in 2014.

The large model vehicle was rigged out with a lift which permitted Loring, a driver and his three children to travel beyond local borders and stay somewhere overnight; something that had been impossible following the accident.

So the theft of his van while he was in Calgary for a Garth Brooks concert was an enormous loss.

The vehicle was discovered in Olds, Alta. on Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, Loring still had no idea what damage has been done to it other than “the steering column has been devastated.”

Loring explains that he and girlfriend Shelly Kalke arrived at their Calgary hotels around dinnertime Saturday where they discovered the guest parking lot was full.

Instead, the couple had to park in the paid lot across the street.

After what he describes as a great concert, the couple returned to the hotel and settled in for the night. Early the following

morning, Kalke went down to the lot to extend the parking fee and collect a few items, including Loring’s special mug.

“She went down to the lot and I got a text that the van is gone,” Loring says.

“I texted, “Are you in the right parking lot?’ he laughs. “And she said yes.”

A round of calls to the parking lot operator and Calgary impound lots ensued, without success. It was the same story at all the local tow truck companies, but Loring says staff at the impound lots were very helpful.

“Those ladies really checked around,” he said, noting that when it finally became clear the van had been stolen, police were called.

Both Calgary police and the RCMP verified the van was not located at any impound lot or towing yard and soon, every police and RCMP station in Canada had the licence plate and description of the van, Loring says.

“We finally had something to eat at 1 p.m. and tried all the rental places,” he says. “There was nothing for me to rent to get home in; all that was left was a few small cars I couldn’t transfer into them.”

That’s when the enormity of his problem hit Loring.

“For a while there, in my state, it was almost unfathomable – how are we going to get home? There’s nothing to rent, I’d have to be carried in because there was no ramp. It was a worry for a while,” he says. “But the way the universe works, Shelly’s cousin Kris Jagt, an RN, knew of a lady named Jane.”

Calling her “the biggest sweetheart in the world, Loring says the woman not only had a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, she offered it to the couple for the trip back to Salmon Arm.

“She and her hubby drove into the city in two vehicles, came up to the hotel, picked me up on the day of the Pride Festival when downtown was crazy, drove us to Shelly’s cousin’s house and her husband met her there,” raves Loring. “This lady was so wonderful and wouldn’t take any money.”

In the meantime, Jagt got busy on Facebook, reporting the theft on Garth Brooks’ page among others.

“She put out the word with the whole description,” he says, pointing out that, as of Tuesday, the post had generated more than 300,000 shares, 200,000 of them after Kelly and Blu Hopkins reposted.

Shelly’s uncle drove the couple home in the borrowed van, getting them home by about 11 p.m. Sunday night then began the return trip.

Loring is now waiting to hear if his van is salvageable and can be returned to Salmon Arm. He is also working with the insurance company to see about replacing expensive equipment that was in the van and whether the Calgary parking lot operator has any responsibility.

Other than a bit of shocked disbelief, Loring says he was quite calm at the beginning.

“But the biggest emotion that would come out of this is how amazing these people that we met were. They made a really difficult situation as easy as it could be,” he says. “There’s that 10-to-one ratio that for every jackass, there are those nine other people who are champs.”

Thanks to his power chair, Loring will be able to make his way around the community and a friend of his, John Pottie, has offered the use of his wheelchair-accessible van for the time being.

“Shelly was by far the biggest help through this little adventure, she dragged my ass all over the place with a smile and a snuggle,” says a grateful Loring. “I hope the people who stole the van realizeed what kind of van it was and felt lousy.”

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