A van for Keoshia

A van for Keoshia

September 19th, 2012 by Beth Burger in News

Reggie Johnson, right, helps LeKeshia Matthews and her mother Donna WIlson learn about the features on their new Dodge Grand Caravan SXT at Larry Hill Ford in Cleveland, Tenn. The dealership joined resources with church donations and other businessmen to provide the Matthews family with a new vehicle. LeKeshia Matthews is the mother of 13-year-old Keoshia Ford who was struck in the head by a stray bullet during a gang shooting and has since remained comatose.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A set of keys belonging to a bright shiny blue 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan symbolize a small step of independence for 13-year-old Keoshia Ford and her family.

"She was the type of person to get up and go," said LeKeshia Matthews, 30, Keoshia's mother.

Keoshia remains in a comatose state since March 17 when she was struck in the head by a stray round during a gang shooting. But the van donated to her Tuesday will allow her to travel more.

"Thirteen-year-old kids aren't supposed to be struck by a gangster's bullet," said Larry Hill, owner of the Ford dealership that gave Keoshia the van. "They are not supposed to be in a comatose state the rest of their life."

Keoshia's mother and grandmother made the trip to Hill's dealership in Cleveland on South Lee Highway to pick up the van, which is outfitted with two power sliding side doors and removable center seats to allow enough room for a wheelchair to be secured to the floor.

"It means a whole lot to me that he helped me get a car to get her back and forth to her doctors' appointments," Matthews said. "We can go places rather than just not go. I do appreciate it."

The family made its regular trips to Erlanger hospital by public transportation. Sometimes they waited more than an hour for their ride to come, and it wasn't unusual to be late for appointments.

After a story ran in the Times Free Press documenting one of Keoshia's appointments, Hill decided to help. He made a contribution to a fund at Olivet Baptist Church and, when Matthews began to shop for cars, she went to Hill with a $6,000 budget in community-donated funds from the church.

"I just felt like I needed to help them get some transportation," Hill said. "We just felt like we couldn't get her a good dependable, reliable vehicle that would fit the needs of Keoshia and provide reliable transportation for that amount of money."

The van was purchased for a little more than $14,000 by the dealership, with the church's $6,000 covering some of the cost. To handle the rest, Hill contacted about eight other businessmen in Cleveland and Chattanooga, who matched the church's donation.

While the initial goal was to find a van for $12,000, Hill authorized the purchase of the Grand Caravan even though it was over budget. He made up the difference by dipping into his wallet for the final $2,000. His staff made repairs and replaced the tires on the van.

"She's got a great van. That's the important part," he said.

Boyd Patterson, an anti-gang coordinator for Chattanooga, said he hopes more people like Hill step up.

"Larry Hill isn't being asked to arrest gang members. He isn't being asked to work with probationers. What he did was he read an article that described the transportation problems that Keoshia is having," Patterson said. "He's a car dealership owner. What he can do is provide a car.

"That's all I'm asking everyone else to do. I'm not asking people to figure out a Rubik's cube of gang violence. I'm asking people to do what they can do."

The van still needs a small ramp to wheel Keoshia in and out of the vehicle. But after the family finds one, she will be able to visit her grandmother's home again, leaving the tight quarters of the family's small apartment in public housing.

"She can come over and see me," said Donna Wilson, Keoshia's 52-year-old grandmother. "I get so excited when I see her. I'm hoping one day she will recover and be the Keoshia she used to be. I miss that so much."