Shelby TownshipJuly 12, 2013
Shelby FD replaces woman’s wheelchair stolen at Comerica Park
By Robin Ruehlen
C & G Staff Writer
Shelby Township Fire Department Lt. Inspector Joel Morris poses for a photograph with 27-year-old Waterford Township resident Katie Stark. Morris and the Shelby Township Fire Department donated and delivered a wheelchair to Stark July 9 after learning that Stark’s wheelchair was stolen from Comerica Park during the June 22 Detroit Tigers game.
What was supposed to be a birthday celebration for 27-year-old Katie Stark at Comerica Park turned into several weeks of turmoil after her wheelchair was stolen during the June 22 Detroit Tigers game.
“At first, I thought someone I was with was playing a joke on me, because we play jokes on each other all the time,” said Stark, a Waterford Township resident.
Because her group was not seated in a handicapped-accessible area, Katie had used crutches to get to her seat and her wheelchair was stored in a designated space several rows above her. She did not discover the chair was missing until after the fireworks that followed the Tigers’ win over the Boston Red Sox.
“I was wondering how I was going to get around. I was wondering how I was going to get back to the car, because we had parked two blocks away from the stadium,” she said.
“The last couple of weeks have been challenging.”
Stark, who has cerebral palsy, uses crutches occasionally, but she relies on her wheelchair for longer trips, such as shopping and school. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in childhood and adolescent counseling at Oakland University.
Stark and her family took her predicament to Fox 2 News, which aired the story July 8.
Lt. Inspector Joel Morris, of the Shelby Township Fire Department, happened to be watching the broadcast that evening.
“Katie looked like a very sweet person, and it really bothered me that someone would do something like that,” Morris said.
“I kept thinking about it, and I remembered we have a surplus medical equipment closet at the station with several wheelchairs that have been donated.”
The following morning, Morris did a quick Google image search to see if he could match the brand of Stark’s chair with any in the surplus closet.
“We didn’t have that brand, but we had several that were virtually identical, so I talked to Fire Marshal Eddie Vojtush and proposed that maybe we could donate one,” Morris said.
That afternoon, Morris showed up at Stark’s door with not only the new wheelchair, but also a Dairy Queen slush for Katie.
Stark’s mother, Theresa Buero, described Morris as “the most remarkable man.”
“Katie’s such an upbeat person, but so many things have gone wrong the past few weeks. Joel was so outgoing and friendly … and talk about making her day? This has made her year. It’s just beyond belief,” Buero said.
“They say all things happen for a reason, and I think the chair being stolen happened for a reason. It has put so much excitement and joy into her life; I think the man upstairs has His hand in this.”
Buero added that the response from the entire community following the broadcast was “overwhelming.”
“It is unbelievable the number of people who wanted to help Katie,” she said.
“She was calling me every morning to say, ‘Mom, someone else responded!’ She didn’t know that a firefighter from Shelby Township was going to show up at our door.”
Stark described the new wheelchair as “awesome — better than the one I lost.” And as for Morris, Stark said she cannot say enough about him.
“We got talking right away, we were laughing and joking and having fun. I felt like I’d always known him,” she said.
Morris said he was very impressed with Stark, describing her as “a very nice person who is working hard on her master’s degree.”
“She cried,” said Morris of her reaction, adding that Stark’s 7-year-old nephew, Aidan, was crying when he saw the new chair, as well.
“He was really upset that someone would steal his aunt’s wheelchair,” he said.
“I’m really grateful to my boss for allowing me to do this on behalf of the department, because I know all the guys at work are happy that we were able to help. This wasn’t all me.”