APOPKA. Fla. — “I was shocked, but I was also humored by the way it happened,” Frank Swobodzien said.
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He showed Action 9 a video that was caught on his shop’s security camera. It shows the moment a tow truck driver lost control of his customer’s Dodge Grand Caravan. The video shows the vehicle slamming into a tree and a pole with such force that the back of the vehicle comes off the ground.
“Thirty-three years in business, I’ve never had anything like this happen. I was like, ‘holy crap,’” Swobodzien said.
He owns Central Florida Auto Repair in Apopka, and his shop has taken care of Karen Day’s van for years. When he got to work and saw her wrecked van sitting in the parking lot, he became worried and called her right away.
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“They’re asking me, ‘Are you OK? What happened?’ I’m like, ‘No I’m OK. I just had the car towed last night for, you know, for the replacement part you ordered for me.’”
Then Swobodzien told her that her car had been wrecked.
“So, I’m like, how could this, what happened?’ and you’re freaking out,” Day said.
She had called AAA to have her handicap modified van delivered to Swobodzien’s shop that wah only a few miles away. She said she made it clear to the tow truck driver that her Dodge didn’t have a seat so her wheelchair could lock into place, and that the vehicle was operated by hand controls. She couldn’t understand why the driver was trying to do.
“What’s going on here? What’s he doing? Why is he? Why is he even trying to drive it? You can just lower it in,” Day said.
Day is a single Mom and was also an Orange County school’s teacher of the year. The van was her lifeline, getting her to the classroom and allowing her to manage everyday activities.
The towing company AAA sent to her home is rated ‘F’ at the Better Business Bureau, and according to Day, they admitted to the accident after Swobodzien told them it was all on video.
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“I thought it would be the saving grace that we saw what happened, who did it, and that, you know, that would solve it and they would repair it. They would do the right thing,” Day said she felt hopeful.
She called AAA and their insurance company deemed her van a total loss. They’ve offered her $37,000 to replace it but Day says that’s not enough to get a handicap modified vehicle comparable to what she had before.
“I’m paraplegic right, from the chest down, and I rely on the ramp, and I rely on the hand controls, and I rely on the clip on. So, I put my money in, you know, to get the right car to be able to do my job and live my life,” Day said.
Action 9 contacted AAA. The organization gave us the following statement: “Thank you for reaching out on this matter. This incident involves one of our third-party tow operators who has taken full responsibility for the damages. A claim has been filed with our insurance company, which offered a settlement based on the market value of vehicles with similar age, mileage, and handicap features. We have also assisted in covering transportation expenses in the interim.” AAA also told Action 9 that they have terminated their agreement with that towing company.
For Day, it’s been a difficult three months without transportation. She says she would rather not have to take legal action but has not ruled it out.
“I’m still fighting and begging for something that is completely out of my hands,” Day said.
She is also considering filing a claim with her insurance company, which might help her recover the costs from those responsible.
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