Friday, July 31, 2009
The Whirlwind of Life
The past few weeks have truly been a whirlwind! It started when I tried to get a way for a short vacation with my family, and hasn't quite stopped yet. A little over two weeks ago, on a Wednesday, I set out to join Mom, Dad, Sarah (my Sister), and Madeline (my 8 year old Niece) in South Haven, Michigan for a few days. I was nervous about driving four hours by myself, because after the accident I had trouble staying awake during the one hour commute to work, but I had decided that I could do it, even if I had to stop to rest a few times on the way.
As it turned out, the only time I was sleepy during the drive was while I was driving through Kokomo (about 45 minutes into the drive). I was struggling to stay awake, and was about to stop, when my cell phone rang. (For those of you who don't know, my car has a blue tooth connection with my cell so that I can take calls while my hands are busy with the hand controls that allow me to drive.) The call was from Senator Lugar's office in Indianapolis! They wanted to know if I could meet with the Senator on Friday afternoon. This didn't really fit with my vacation plans, but I had been asking for an opportunity to meet with Senator Lugar for several weeks, so I wasn't going to pass up my chance!
I arrived in South Haven around 6pm that night and settled in to the little house my family had rented for the week. From an accessibility stand point the only major issue was that my wheelchair would not fit through the bathroom door. For me to shower, or do anything else that one does in a bathroom :), I would have to get on the floor, scoot across the hall to the bathroom, and then brace myself between the toilet and the tub to lift myself up. Once I was off the floor I would either swing onto the toilet or my shower bench, depending on what business brought me to the bathroom in the first place. (I'm assuming that's enough said about that!) The only other real accessibility issue for me was that, unless I had my legs on, I could not leave the house on my own. This didn't come into play, but it was difficult to accept that I couldn't even go out on the front porch in my wheelchair without help.
Wednesday night we had a nice family dinner and then went to Sherman's Ice Cream, which is a fantastic nightly treat when we are in South Haven. Madeline and I split an ice cream spaghetti and meatball dinner! (french vanilla ice cream noodles, chocolate ice cream meatballs, strawberry marinara sauce, and white chocolate parmesan cheese) It was scrumptious! Thursday morning we started off the day with doughnuts, then went to Fenn Valley Winery to taste some wine (Madeline tasted sparkling juice), and then we were off to Crane's Orchard (they have all sorts of yummie fruits and berries!)for lunch. After all of that we headed for the beach, which some of you may recall I was concerned that I would not enjoy one bit. I'm happy to report that I had a wonderful time! As you can see from the pictures above, Madeline and I had a great time in the water! We rounded out the day with a nice dinner at a local restaurant and then took Madeline to see Ice Age 3. Oh yeah, before dinner Madeline took me to the candy store that I mentioned in a blog update a few weeks ago. It really is like Candy land, except real! I'm still eating salt water taffy! After such a great day it was hard for me to leave the next morning, but I had a an appointment with Senator Lugar that afternoon and I wasn't going to miss it, so I ate a few doughnuts and then headed home.
The drive home was uneventful. I arrived home with just enough time to shower, shave, and make myself presentable for my Senatorial visit. the Senator and I had a great conversation. I presented him with a packet of information, including the stories of several other victims and we discussed the situation with Chrysler and GM at great length. For now I'll just say that he is very concerned about the issue and that his staff and I speak on a regular basis.
The following Monday I intended to start working on letters to all of the representatives who are on the committee that will consider the merits of H.R. 3088, the bill that bares my name. However, at about 1:30 that afternoon I received a call from the Center for Justice and Democracy asking if I could be in DC that Wednesday to testify before the House Sub-Committee on Commercial and Administrative Law about the Ramifications of Auto Industry Bankruptcies. Of course I said yes! The CDJ helped make my travel arrangements while I started preparing for the trip. Then, around 4pm that afternoon I received an official invitation, via email, to testify. The invitation included instructions. I hadn't realized that I would need to prepare a written statement to submit to the Sub-Committee before 9am the next day! From that point on I was focused on my written statement, which included the study that had been done by Safety Research Strategies and a packet that tells the stories of several other victims. I finally crashed around 1am and then got up at 7am on Tuesday morning to finish it up, go over it with a friend from the American Association for Justice, and then worked on my oral statement until it was time to go to the airport!
My cousin Minda, her husband Mario, and their three children picked me up in DC. We enjoyed a great dinner and then they took me to my hotel, which was another adventure in itself! The hotel was beautiful, but they didn't have a room ready for me, and all of the accessible rooms were occupied! It was 8pm, so I had every right to get upset that they didn't have my guaranteed accessible room ready when I arrived, but I spent many years on the other side of the desk and I know how things can get royally screwed up. It took about an hour for them to get the non accessible room ready, but one quick look at the room and I could tell it wouldn't work, so I convinced the desk supervisor to call the guests in the accessible rooms and find someone who didn't need that room type and get them to switch. Much longer story short, everything worked out in the end.
On Wednesday morning I listened to representatives of Chrysler and GM testify. Needless to say, I needed a (figurative) shovel to get to the witness table to give my testimony that afternoon. The members of the committee seemed to receive my testimony well. According to the audience the whole room was focused on me while I spoke. It was very hard to get everything I wanted to say into the five minutes I was allowed, but I think they got the point. I truly believe that we are getting the attention we need.
As I was waiting in the airport for my flight to come home to Indy I received a text message from someone at the CJD informing me that "some kind of action" was being put together for the first meeting of Chrysler's CEO and Board of Directors, which would be the next Monday. So, I returned home, squeezed as much into the next four days that I could to get caught up on the rest of my life, and then flew to Detroit on Sunday! On Monday morning we held a protest and press conference outside Chrysler headquarters. The real goal was to get a meeting with them, but we new that wouldn't happen. Our secondary goal was to hand deliver a letter addressed to the CEO that details our concern that Chrysler will not succeed because it has now effectively turned it's back on all customers who have purchased their vehicles in the past. There are over 30 million Chrysler vehicles currently on the road and Chrysler no longer has any responsibility for the safety of those vehicles! One million of those vehicles are under warranty, which means that if a part that is under warranty injures you, Chrysler will fix the part, but they won't help with your medical expenses or funeral costs!
We had a lot of press coverage and several people protesting. The press conference went well and then we went across the street to the Chrysler compound to request a meeting. The security staff refused to contact the CEO, so we headed in to the compound to try to reach the main building. A police car quickly pulled up in front of us to block our path and informed us that we were tress passing and that we needed to turn around. For a moment I thought about pointing out the fact that our tax dollars were used to purchase Chrysler, so technically we were not tress passing, but I didn't want to wind up in jail. In the end Chrysler's Director of Security accepted our letter.
Now, I'm continuing to work on this fight, however, I do have other things happening in my life as well. Next Friday I will deliver the key note speech at the Indiana Assistive Technology Conference, and will hold an hour session afterwards to talk about my experiences since the accident. Yesterday Wade Wingler from Easter Seals Crossroads, who is in charge of the conference, and I had a live interview on WTHR. The interview includes the details of the conference, so please click on the link to watch it! The conference is open to the public, and I encourage everyone to come!
Now, what else does next week have in store for me...? I'll be sure to fill you in when I find out! For now, I need to get going so that I can get ready for the People's Burn Foundation fund raiser that's being held at the Indiana Roof Ballroom tonight. Oh yeah, and tomorrow morning I'll join the Indianapolis Resource Center for Independent Living at UIndy for their Wheel-A-Thon fund raiser. For someone who is supposed to be unemployed, I'm certainly working alot!
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Monday Morning, 11am
Saturday, July 25, 2009
A Lot to Tell, No Time to Talk
Tomorrow (Sunday) evening I will fly to Detroit to join with other victims of defective Chrysler vehicles. On Monday the new Chrysler/Fiat CEO and the Board of Directors will meet at the Chrysler headquarters. At approximately 10am on Monday we (the victims) will hold a Press Conference near the building and attempt to gain their attention to request a meeting.
I promise I will fill you in on what has been happening in my life as soon as I get a chance! For now though, I need to focus on laundry, spend some quality time with my cats, and try to get some rest. I'm completely exhausted!
The following is the invitation that was sent to the media, feel free to share this information with everyone you know. Be sure to watch the news on Monday, we're hoping this gets national attention!
CHRYSLER VICTIMS APPEAL TO NEW CHRYSLER CEO, SEEK MEETING
--Victims from 3 States Schedule News Conference Monday at Chrysler's Headquarters Prior to Board of Directors Meeting; Victims Will Attempt to Hand-Deliver a Letter to Chrysler/Fiat CEO Board of Director, Sergio Marchionne and newly formed Board of Directors, seeking a meeting--
WHO: Christina and Brian Catalano of St. Clair Shores, MI, whose mother was killed by a runaway Chrysler minivan; Jeremy Warriner of Indianapolis, IN, whose legs were so badly burned by a fire in a Chrysler vehicle that they had to be amputated; and Patrick James of Knoxville, TN, whose daughter was killed in a Chrysler van that flipped over. A representative from the Center for Justice and Democracy. More family members, friends and supporters.
WHAT: Chrysler victims who have been severely injured and families with parents or children who died as a result of unsafe defective Chrysler cars will hold a press conference and also attempt to personally deliver a letter to “New” Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne and the new Chrysler Board of Directors. The new Board is meeting on Monday for the first time, beginning a 3-day briefing/formal board meeting. The families are asking Chrysler to restore consumer protections that were eliminated during the bankruptcy process when the company refused to take responsibility for deaths and injuries caused by safety defects in any Chrysler vehicles now on road. The victims want consumers to know that Chrysler is the only car company in the world that is not responsible for deaths and injuries caused by defects in future crashes. General Motors, which went through the same bankruptcy process, agreed to take responsibility for defective GM vehicles when fatalities and injuries occur after this month's bankruptcy, but Chrysler is evading its responsibility.
At the event, there will be a defective Chrysler minivan on display. The minivan was rear ended in 2007 and both front seats collapsed resulting in the death of one child in the back seat. A second child in the back seat suffered a skull fracture. This is a common safety defect in millions of Chrysler minivans. Other visuals include consumers holding "Justice for Chrysler Victims" signs and posters created by victims displaying photos of loved ones who were injured or killed by defective Chrysler vehicles.
WHERE: Public access location as close as possible to Chrysler Headquarters -- exact location TBA
WHEN: Approximately 10 AM -- EXACT TIME TBA
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Rolling with the Waves of Change
In regards to the vacation, for now I'll just say this. I had to cut the trip short because, while I was driving to Michigan last Wednesday afternoon I was caught up in another wave. Senator Lugar's office called to see if I could meet with the Senator at 5pm that Friday. I still went to South Haven, but only got to spend one full day with my family, and then headed back to Indy on Friday morning to meet with Senator Lugar.
Needless to say, I'll have a lot to share with you in my next update! Look for it toward the end of the week. Now I have to go pack!
Monday, July 13, 2009
If you want to hear what I have to say about the situation with Chrysler and GM, and why the Bill needs support, you can listen to me talk on a YouTube video. Feel free to share the video with others who don't follow this blog. I've also found a site where you can track the Bill's progress and see what committee is going to consider it. From that site you can also see what Representative's are on the committee and find their contact information. If any of them are your Representatives please send them a letter (see side bar) and give them a call.
Now, in addition to this I've been juggling a lot of other things and have allowed myself to get a little stressed. Part of the stress was actually trying to decide about whether or not to go on vacation with Mom, Dad, Sarah, and Madeline. They left on Saturday to go to South Haven, Michigan for a week. It's a beautiful Lake Michigan beach town! When we were kids we went there on a regular basis. It was always one of my favorite places. We spent a week there about a year after the accident and, even though I had a good time, it was emotionally difficult for me.
Having experienced South Haven during my life before the accident made me feel very limited now. For example, I could sit in my wheelchair on the sidewalk by the beach, but I couldn't go on the beach. It's a great town to walk around in but that would require so much energy that I wound up spending more time in the wheelchair than I like, and the town itself isn't very accessible. So, I had pretty much decided that I wasn't going to go this year, but I also didn't want to miss the time with Madeline. (ok, the rest of the family too) :)
I was very torn because this time Mom has found a place that rents beach wheelchairs and Mom and Dad are renting a cottage near the beach. Last time we had to stay in separate hotels because their hotel wasn't accessible at all. I think I almost made myself sick last week when I was trying to decide what to do. Ultimately I decided to go, but I was only going to stay for the weekend, because I just have too many things happening to be gone all week. Of course, this was also stressing me out!
The relief finally came when my friend Pantelis (Pete) Koukoutsis (his full name is so much fun to say!) called to remind me that he was coming to visit on Saturday. I had forgotten because we hadn't talked for a long time. This surprise finally made me think outside the box and I decided to stay home for the weekend, get some stuff done on Monday and Tuesday, and then head up to Michigan on Wednesday afternoon. As soon as I decided to do that I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders!
This way I get to spend a couple of days in South Haven with the family and they can get all the "walking around town" stuff done before I get there. Madeline has already called to tell me that there is a candy store that she has to show me. According to her it's like Candy Land but real! I'm still a little uncertain about the beach, but I'm willing to give it a shot. A change in latitude is definitely in order!
Friday, July 03, 2009
Why you should support the Jeremy Warriner Consumer Protection Act
Congressman Andre Carson has introduced H.R. 3088, the Jeremy Warriner Consumer Protection Act. I'm honored that he has named the bill after me, but please remember that I am just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have been injured by Chrysler and GM. What we are fighting for is our right to face Chrysler and GM in court and argue our cases.
This effects everyone, because Chrysler has not only used our bankruptcy laws to get out of current pending cases, but they have also been given protection from any future injuries or deaths caused by their vehicles that were sold before May 30th of this year. Which means if you get injured, or your loved one is killed, by one of these vehicles you cannot face them in court either. GM has agreed to accept liability for future injuries and deaths caused by "old GM" vehicles that occur after the bankruptcy. However, they are not accepting liability for any pending cases, or new injuries or deaths that occur while they are in the bankruptcy court. Here's the kicker, we are paying with our tax dollars to create these companies that have less responsibility to the American people than any other auto manufacturer.
H.R. 3088, the Jeremy Warriner Consumer Protection Act restores that right by requiring any auto manufacturer who receives federal funding, either through ownership or through loans (currently only Chrysler and GM), to purchase liability insurance that will cover any pending claims from the "old companies" and any future claims. This should be important to you because, if Chrysler and GM do not accept responsibility for injuries and deaths caused by their vehicles then these cases must be heard before a jury. If that doesn't happen then the defects that caused these injuries and deaths will never get reported, important recalls will not be issued in a timely manner, and more people will be injured or possibly killed. I speak from experience when I tell you that the saying "it won't happen to me" will not protect you. Being a member of the UAW, working for GM or Chrysler, or choosing to be Republican or Democrat will not protect you either. A defective vehicle can, and will, cause disabling injuries and deaths.
Supporting this bill ensures our Constitutional 7th Amendment right to a civil trial so that we can hold these companies, that we have created with our tax dollars, accountable for injuries and deaths caused by their vehicles. Supporting this bill restores important consumer safety protections that have been jeopardized by the bankruptcy process by ensuring that dangerous defects get tracked by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and that important recalls get issued in a timely manner. Supporting this bill gives our Government the opportunity to show that it is still a government For The People!
You can show your support for this bill by contacting your Congressmen, Senators, and the White House. Click here to find out how to contact your Representatives in the Government. The following is a form letter that you can copy and paste into a word document to send to your Congressmen and Senators either through email or US mail. Be sure to enter the Representatives title and name at the top of the letter, and enter your name and contact info at the bottom so that they can confirm you are their constituent. Also, set your font in Word to Times New Roman, 11pt font, so that it stays on one page. After you have sent the letter please make a follow up phone call to the Representative's office. Feel free to change the letter if you want to put it into your own words. As soon as I can get a permanent link set up on the side bar the form letter will be available there! For now, Here's the letter:
Dear [insert Representative OR Senator and their name],
I am writing you today to ask that you, as my elected Representative in the US Congress, support H.R. 3088, the Jeremy Warriner Consumer Protection Act. This bill will require the restructured Chrysler and GM to purchase insurance for personal liability claims from Americans injured by their defective vehicles currently on the road. Jeremy Warriner lost both of his legs and was left permanently disabled due to a defective vehicle. Jeremy is just one of hundreds injured by a defective vehicle that would be left without effective legal recourse if this bill does not become law. I do not want what happened to him to happen to me or those I love.
Chrysler no longer has liability for past or future injuries or deaths caused by any of its vehicles on the road that were purchased before the bankruptcy. GM has agreed to accept liability for “old” GM vehicles that cause injuries or deaths in the future, but they are not assuming liability for the people who have been injured and currently have pending claims against them! How can any auto manufacturer be responsible for the safety of some of its vehicles and its consumers, but not all of them, especially when many of their consumers are driving, or were injured by, the same cars that Chrysler and GM are still selling? It’s disturbing that our government could allow such a thing to happen, and that they would use our tax money to allow it!
I am also extremely concerned about the safety issue this creates, which could affect me, my family, and my friends. There are over 10 million Chrysler vehicles currently on the road, any one of which could have a defect, possibly one that’s already caused injuries to the people whose cases are now being ignored! If the pending cases of the current victims of Chrysler and GM vehicles are not heard, and Chrysler does not have to address any future injuries or deaths caused by their over 10 million vehicles on the road, what incentive do Chrysler and GM have to issue recalls? Some of the defects involved in these pending cases could lead to immediate recalls which would make our roads safer. I am concerned this has created a situation where important recalls may never get issued! Injuries that could be prevented by these recalls will lead to mounting medical expenses that, without Chrysler and GM accountability, could ultimately become a burden on the tax payers.
I sincerely hope that you realize that the safety issues this creates could affect you and your loved ones too, and that the state that you represent does not need the added burden of the health care costs of the current and future victims of Chrysler and GM. H.R. 3088, the Jeremy Warriner Consumer Protection Act will ensure that these companies take responsibility for injuries and deaths caused by their vehicles, it will ensure that important recalls are issued in a timely manner, and it will relieve the tax payers of the cost of these victims medical bills. As my elected Representative you are the only chance I have that my voice will be heard. Please support this bill and ensure that it gets signed into law.
[insert your name]
[insert phone number]