A Litchfield mechanic has replaced the handicapped-accessible van that was destroyed by fire at his shop last winter.

Bill Kelley, who owns B-K Auto on Hallowell Road, not only criss-crossed New England over several weeks to find the right van, he then donated thousands of dollars in material and labor to make sure it was just right for MonaRae Yaede and her family.

“Bill Kelley and B-K Auto are heroes to the Yaede and Lane families,” said Yaede’s father, Carlton Lane. “We couldn’t have replaced it no matter what. Bill Kelley wanted to make it right.”

Yaede was paralyzed from the neck down in December 2011 when her car hit a patch of black ice on the Hallowell/Litchfield road and slammed into a utility pole.

Yaede bought a van in August 2012 and was anxious to put it to regular use, but the van caught fire in February of this year while undergoing routine repairs at Kelley’s shop. Workers managed to save the building by pushing the burning van into the parking lot, but the van was destroyed.

Neither Lane nor Kelley knows what caused the accidental fire.

Yaede, who receives just $40 per month from MaineCare for personal use, was crushed.

“She could hardly contain herself,” Lane said at the time.

Kelley, who has worked on the Lanes’ vehicles for a number of years, went to work to find a replacement.

“He guaranteed a van as good or better,” Lane said. “He went above and beyond what he needed to.”

The insurance company sent Yaede a check for $6,750, which she gave to Kelley to go toward the van purchase. It proved nowhere near enough.

“For what the insurance company was going to pay I couldn’t find a decent van,” Kelley said.

He said he looked at dozens of vans across New England.

“I went to Massachusetts twice,” he said.

A dealer friend finally called with a 2000 Ford E-150 conversion van with 124,000 miles that met Kelley’s mechanical expectations. It still needed work, however.

“We basically had to remodel the van to fit her,” he said.

The biggest job was installing a kit to raise the roof to provide enough headroom for Yaede’s mechanical chair. The manufacturer sold Kelley the kit at cost after hearing Yaede’s story.

“They helped out, too,” he said.

Kelley replaced all the brake and fuel lines, the brakes and shocks, as well as overhauling the lift.

“I believe it’s going to be an excellent vehicle for them,” Kelley said.

He estimated that he donated about $4,500 in parts and labor, though that did not represent all the work.

“I stopped counting after 60 hours,” Kelley said.

Kelley, who delivered the van a couple of months ago, said he felt responsible for making sure Yaede has some mobility at the long-term care facility where she is likely to spend the rest of her life.

“I don’t spend money on advertising,” Kelley said. “I put my advertising money into keeping my customers happy.”

“Happy” just scratches the surface of the family’s emotion, Lane said.

“He didn’t have to do all that,” Lane said.

But now Yaede is afraid she will have to give up the van, Lane said. He said there are no funds to maintain the van or pay for gasoline, registration and insurance. Yaede is anxious to go to church and attend family functions, but if she is forced to give up the van she likely will be unable to leave the facility due to the expense of hiring a specialty van service.

“It makes her feel a bit human again,” Lane said.

Yaede and her family have established a savings account at the Maine State Credit Union to accept donations to support Yaede, Lane said.

Donations to the Friends of MonaRae Yaede account can be made directly at any of the credit union branches in Augusta and Waterville. Checks or money orders made out to the account can be mailed to: Maine State Credit Union, P.O. Box 5659, Augusta, ME 04332.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
[email protected]

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