Family's wheelchair-accessible van stolen, crashed

Crystal Clark reports

- A Clearwater family is left without transportation for their wheelchair-bound son after a group of teenagers stole and destroyed their customized minivan.

The vehicle was taken Thursday night from the Griffith family's home on Summerlin Drive in Clearwater. They didn't notice it was missing until Friday morning.

"I was leaving for work, walking through my driveway, and about halfway through it, I thought to myself, 'where's our van?'" said John Griffith.

Shortly after, St. Petersburg Police found the 2013 Toyota Sienna crashed at 1786 Nevada Avenue Northeast.
Officers arrested three teenagers, two of them near the crash scene, and the third suspect was later found hiding in a nearby portable toilet.

"It's unbelievable. I couldn't believe it," said Amber Griffith.
Her family got the customized van two years ago to accommodate the wheelchair of her 6-year-old son, Jackson, who has cerebral palsy.

A few months ago, Griffith said she realized a set of keys was missing for the vehicle. She later discovered her teenage daughter's friend, who visited the house, had taken the keys.

The family said their teen daughter was shocked when she realized on Friday she knew each of the minors arrested for stealing the car.

"It's terrible that it seems more and more these days, kids think they can just take whatever they want to take and there's no repercussions. Hopefully, this will be a different outcome," said John Griffith.

One of the teens, a 16-year-old girl, was charged with felony grand theft auto. Police are still searching for a suspected fourth accomplice.

According to a St. Petersburg police report, the teens used the van to commit other vehicle burglaries throughout the city. They were caught in the act outside a home on the 1900 block of Shore Acres Northeast.

The teens are believed to have crashed the vehicle at some point during the night, causing major front end damage and totaling the van.

"There was glass everywhere, wires pulled from the dash, windshield broken, the whole door was smashed in," said Griffith.

The family has one other vehicle, a pick up truck, making it nearly impossible to drive their son anywhere with his wheelchair.

"The wheelchair weighs approximately 75 pounds, so you really can't be lifting this chair into something day in and day out," said Griffith.

They are hopefully someone can assist them in getting a new wheelchair accessible van. Anyone able to help can reach the family by email at ambergriffith1980@yahoo.com.

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