Disabled man gets his van as Tempe makes good

Sarah Muench The Arizona Republic Feb. 16, 2006 12:00 AM

TEMPE - The city this week handed over the keys to a disability-accessible van, making amends after a good deed went bad.

Tom Ringhofer of Tempe had parked his 1992 Chrysler van on Sixth Street, east of Mill Avenue, in a handicapped spot in late December. When he returned, another vehicle had parked illegally next to him, preventing him from opening his lift door, police said.

A Tempe park ranger offered to help move the van, equipped with disability-accessible hand controls, across the street so he could get into it. But police said the park ranger, unfamiliar with how the van's hand controls work, moved it forward and crashed into a city light pole, which fell into the canvas awning of a palm-reading business.

The accident racked up about $20,000 in damages to the vehicle and the property.

"She was helping him park," said Nikki Ripley, a city spokeswoman. "He had asked for assistance."

Ripley said a replacement van for Ringhofer cost the city about $13,000; picking up the tab of a rental vehicle, at about $100 daily, added up an additional $4,000. The city also dished out $1,400 to pay for the palm reader's damaged awning and about $1,800 for the tipped over light pole, she said.

"These vans are obviously very specialized, and it's hard to find a replacement vehicle," Ripley said, though she said Ringhofer helped find a used van that could be adapted for his use.

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