Handicapped man forced to leave store on knees after staff takes away electric cart

A man rides a mobility scooter Feb. 7, 2017, in Great Yarmouth, United Kingdom.

MASON CITY, Iowa — A handicapped Iowa man has received an apology from a store at which employees forced him to “walk” out of the store on his knees after confiscating the store-provided electric cart he was using.

Shane Zahn, a Garner resident who is missing his right foot, had completed his shopping at Mills Fleet Farm in Mason City and was attempting to take the cart out to his vehicle when he was stopped and told he could not use the cart in the parking lot.

"After I got out of the store, right in front of the door I was told I was not allowed to take the wheelchair out into the parking lot, and I said 'Huh?'" Zahn told KIMT News 3 in Mason City. "I said, 'I've done this before.' She said, 'The wheelchair is to not be out. It needs to come back in.' I said, 'What am I supposed to do, crawl out of the store?'"

Ultimately, that’s what Zahn did, after returning all of the items he had purchased. He also had his son record his exit, which he posted to Facebook.

Went to Fleet Farm today to do some shopping. Paid for all my items and went to leave, was told I couldn't use the...

Posted by Shane Zahn on Monday, April 24, 2017

"Paid for all my items and went to leave, was told I couldn't use the wheelchair to go to the car," Zahn wrote in the Facebook post. "Returned all my items and had to walk out on my hands and knees. Just trying to make people aware of how Fleet Farm treats handicapped customers."

The photos and video footage exploded across social media, with more than 112,000 people sharing it, more than 36,000 people reacting to it and another 11,000 commenting on Zahn’s post as of Thursday morning. While most were horrified and sympathetic, some people questioned Zahn’s story, with one commenter asking how he got into the store in the first place.

Zahn told KIMT 3 News that his son dropped him off in front of the store before parking the car. He said he usually brings in his own manual wheelchair, except in stores like Fleet Farm that have electric ones for customers' use.

Another man questioned Zahn’s handicap.

“He’s not handicapped. If he was, he wouldn’t be walking on his knees so well,” the man wrote on Zahn’s post.

Others in the Facebook thread jumped to Zahn’s defense, pointing out that the video shows the right leg of his pants trailing on the floor where his foot and part of his leg should be.

“He’s missing a foot. Your knees still work without a foot,” one woman said.

Fleet Farm acknowledged the incident in a post on the company's own Facebook page, admitting that an employee refused to allow Zahn to use the cart to access his car.

“While use of carts in the parking lot with the uneven terrain can pose a hazard, we feel that in this instance our team member made the wrong decision,” Fleet Farm CEO Wayne Sales said in the statement. “We apologize to the customer and to everyone who may be affected.”

Statement from Wayne Sales, CEO, Mills Fleet Farm: On behalf of the entire Mills Fleet Farm Team, We are aware of an...

Posted by Fleet Farm on Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sales told KIMT 3 News that, although the company has policies and guidelines in place to protect customers from accidents with the electric carts in the parking lots, those guidelines do not include denying customers the use of the carts.

Sales said the company failed to live up to its values and that employees “should have gone the extra mile and helped the customer use the cart to return to his vehicle after shopping.” He said the company wants to “make things right” with Zahn, though he did not say what that would entail.

Mills Fleet Farm is a chain of 35 stores across Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and North Dakota that sell sporting goods, lawn and garden supplies, hardware, clothing and other general merchandise, according to its website.