Family: Criminals stole wheelchair van, robbed woman with special needs of her freedom

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AURORA, Colo. -- The family of a woman with special needs said criminals stole their wheelchair-accessible van, robbing the woman of her freedom to explore the community.

And now her family can't afford to replace the vehicle.

Carrie Ricard said the 1997 van was parked outside their Aurora home overnight, but when she woke up, it was gone. The van is a brown GMC Savanah bearing Colorado license plates 864-VOV

"I'm just devastated. I've been devastated all day," Ricard said.

Ricard's sister Bobbi Jo Dunbar has unique special needs. The van was specifically designed to fit Dunbar's large wheelchair that allows her to remain horizontal at all times.

"Finding the right equipment for her is very tricky. It's incredibly specialized stuff. I can't look on craigslist and find a replacement for any of the things that we have," Ricard said.

Ricard said Dunbar's favorite thing to do is go on rides. Thanks to the specialized van, she's traveled to 49 states.

Each week, her family takes her out of the home to the pet store, the mall, the grocery store, any chance to give her opportunities to explore.

"It's a huge part of her quality of life and she's had enough," Ricard said. "She's had enough struggle in her life. She really doesn't need that.

"One more piece where she is just even more trapped. You can imagine how it feels to just be trapped."

The Aurora Police Department is investigating but at this point, it does not have any leads.

Ricard said the insurance company will only cover the cost of the van, which has 150,000 miles on it, but not any of the specialized equipment the family installed. Plus, she has a high deductible.

"I think it's going to be a total wash," Ricard said.

Her family paid to outfit the van with specialized equipment initially because Ricard said Medicaid only covers the basics such as Dunbar's oxygen and wheelchair.

She said it will cost $50,000 to replace the stolen van and install the equipment. If they use a van they already have, Ricard said it'll cost $19,000.

Ricard said it's money the family doesn't have, already struggling with debt from medical bills after Ricard's husband's battle with cancer.

"It's just not fair. We've already had a lot of unfair things happen to us and this is just really unfair," Ricard said.

Plus, Ricard said if the van does resurface, she worries it won't be safe to drive.

"There is no guarantee that it's going to be drivable. And we really need something safe and reliable for her. It's incredibly important we don't get stuck somewhere with her," Ricard said.

Her family has started a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise the money to outfit an existing van with Dunbar's equipment.

"It breaks my heart, you know? It's just she has dealt with so many problems in her life and this is one thing that didn't need to happen to her," Ricard said.

A police spokesman said if anyone sees the vehicle, they should call 911 to report it and to not approach it.