Baton Rouge Police officer Rickey Faust had been relying on public transportation the last few months to get to his rehabilitation and doctors appointments — his family's vehicles could not accommodate his power wheelchair ever since the on-duty crash that left him with a severe spinal cord injury.
The best option had become Yellow Cab wheelchair-accessible vans, said Faust's wife, Jodi Faust, but the limited fleet had often left the family in a bind.
"Transportation has been our main issue," said Jodi Faust. "There were days when appointments had to be rescheduled just because there was no availability."
Last month, a Baton Rouge police officer on duty was severely injured when a driver cut in front of his unit, causing him to crash into the co…
But that all changed Monday when a coalition of local charities donated a 2017 Dodge Tempest van equipped with accessible features to the Faust family.
"This vehicle presented to Officer Faust is a way for his 'family in blue' not only to have his back, but the back of his wife and kids as well," Baton Rouge Police spokesman Sgt. Don Coppola said at a ceremony presenting the van to the Fausts.
Officer Faust used his lips to control the navigation of his power chair, slowly backing onto the van's lift, the crowd around him cheering as he entered the spacious van for the first time.
"By seven o'clock tomorrow you'll have that down pat," joked interim Deputy Chief Robert McGarner.
Then, McGarner noticed the big-screen TV lining the van's interior: "Hey, we could have watched the Super Bowl in there!"
Faust grinned. Looking around the van, he said he was most excited that his entire family could now fit with him in the vehicle, and his wife agreed.
"To be able to go somewhere as a family, with the kids, all together, is huge," Jodi Faust said, echoing her husband.
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Months of fundraising preceded the donation, a combined effort from Back the Blue Baton Rouge, Behind the Line Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge Police Department, Baton Rouge Union of Police, and Magnolia State Peace Officers Association, Coppola said. The vehicle and its accommodations came to about $80,000, organizers said, though the accessibility modifications were covered by worker's compensation.
"It came together with the help of the city and citizens," said Cpl. Brandon Blust, director of the nonprofit Back the Blue Baton Rouge. "Hopefully it will change their lives for the better."
Faust, a 10-year Zachary Police veteran before two years with the Baton Rouge Police Department, was injured in a March 21 single-vehicle crash while on duty, Coppola said. A driver cut in front of Faust's unit while he was responding to a call for service, causing him to crash into the concrete barrier on the Interstate 12 median.
Faust was in intensive care for almost a month after the crash, undergoing two spinal surgeries, and then spent time at a rehabilitation center. He is now at home but continues with physical therapy.
"I think I'm past the medical part, now I just have to get my movement back," Faust said Monday. Currently, he has some movement in his right arm and can wiggle his toes, the Fausts said.
"All my sensations are coming back real good, I can feel my toes now, I can feel my feet," Faust said. "It's a slow process, every week I get stronger, stronger, stronger. I just praise God."
Jodi Faust said the doctors haven't given them any indication how much movement they expect he will get back because of the large range in spinal cord injuries, but she said his progress already has been incredible — and she is sure that will continue.
"Given that he can feel everywhere, I think that he has a very good prognosis," Jodi Faust said. "And he's going to work, he's not going to give up until he's on his feet."