Rob Nimmo was helping his 15-year-old daughter, Tessa, catch the school bus one morning in October. While outside he noticed a black substance on the windows of the family’s wheelchair accessible van — the van the Nimmos rely on transporting Tessa, who has cerebral palsy.
When Nimmo, a resident of San Carlos Park, opened the door, he found the entire interior of the van covered with black soot. The passenger seat, ceiling and dashboard were ravaged and charred by flames.
“At first I was kind of bewildered. Like why would somebody do that?” said Nimmo. “Then I was more irritated. It’s and old van. It’s a 19-year-old van that’s not in great shape to begin with, but it’s the only thing we had for moving our little handicapped girl on the ground. So why would somebody do that?”
Tessa developed cerebral palsy as a result of a traumatic birth injury. She has the mental and physical capabilities of a 2-month-old baby.
With the van rendered unusable, the Nimmo family was left with no convenient way to drive Tessa — who has limited motion and cannot speak — let alone take her to doctor’s appointments.
“Maggie (Rob’s wife and Tessa’s mother) can’t lift her into the car,” Rob said. “So last week when (Tessa) went to the doctor, both of us took a day off of work.”
It takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to disassemble Tessa’s wheelchair, which is designed to accommodate the scoliosis in her spine and weighs more than 100 pounds, and lift her into the back seat of the car. Tessa also weighs close to 100 pounds.
When members of the Estero United Methodist Church, a church Maggie attended for 20 years, heard about what happened to the Nimmo family, they decided to raise money to replace the van.
“I sat by (Maggie) in church, and she told me what happened,” said Linda Horne, secretary at Estero United Methodist. “She said that somebody had vandalized the van in her driveway at her house. My heart just went out to her.”
The Rev. David Harris, pastor of Estero United Methodist, said he was “horrified” someone would so cruelly destroy the van of a disabled person.
“The van was clearly labeled in terms of its use,” Harris said.
To aid the Nimmo family, the Chick-Fil-A restaurant, located at 21900 South Tamiami Trail, near the Coconut Point Mall in Estero, will host a fundraiser on Friday, Dec. 4. Twenty percent of its profits between 4 and 9 p.m. will be donated to the Nimmo family.
Church staff also decided to collecting a special donation from congregation during church services in order to reach their goal of roughly $9,000.
Maggie Nimmo said she felt humbled when she found out the church wanted to help her family buy a new handicap accessible van.
“I was ecstatic,” she said.
The van was investigated by San Carlos Park Fire & Rescue.
Arson was suspected but there was no evidence of who started the fire. No arrests have been made.
“They felt that somebody had probably started it,” Rob said. “They just didn’t have anything to prove it.”
Maggie, who was out of town when the fire occurred, suspects that the alleged vandals didn’t use any flammable liquids to accelerate the fire because only half of the van was destroyed before the fire extinguished.
“They didn’t use an accelerant, so there was no blowing up,” Maggie said. “I think that they just lit the passenger seat on fire and then closed the door back. Then it suffocated itself out, so it wasn’t like there were big flames shooting out or anything.”
The Nimmo family said a used wheelchair accessible van can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $9,000.
The lift on the old, burnt van is still functional. The family’s greatest need is a van large enough to fit Tessa and her wheelchair.
“We’re trying to find something that’s in the $8,000 to $9,000 range that is at least in good shape and that will work for a few years for us,” Rob said.
The Estero United Methodist, located at 8088 Lord’s Way, Estero, FL 33928, is accepting checks and money through the mail from people who wish to help the Nimmo family buy a new van.
If you go
Chick-fil-a benefit for nimmo family
20 percent of profits will go toward a new van for Nimmo family.
When: 4 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4.
Where: Chick-Fil-A, 21900 South Tamiami Trail, Estero.
Sarah Donovan is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org