Oakland girl in wheelchair needs special van after uninsured driver totals her old one

Life had always been challenging for Kathleen Eastland of Oakland and her daughter.

But it’s been even more daunting ever since a car accident with an uninsured motorist, who crashed into the family's specially equipped van for Eastland’s 12-year-old daughter who has cerebral palsy. 

So, for the past seven months, Eastland has been using a borrowed van with a makeshift lift to transport April Cookston and her wheelchair to school and activities. The roof of the van is barely high enough to fit April.

"I just want my daughter to be safe in a vehicle. I don't want her back to hurt," Eastland said Monday night. 

She  said her specially modified 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan was destroyed in a crash last June when she and April were just blocks from their home when an uninsured motorist pulled out in front of her and totaled her van at the intersection of San Leandro Street and 54th Avenue. Mother and daughter were on their way to April's fifth grade graduation field trip. 

As Eastland talked about the accident and the struggle without their special van, April became distraught. 

The sixth grader told KTVU she relies on the van to get to school and wheelchair soccer practice.

"I get to be around people just like me," she said.
 Eastland  said her insurance covers liability but not damage to her own vehicle.   Being on a limited income, she said she opted for the least expensive insurance she could buy. But she didn't fully realize what her insurance did not cover until the accident. 

"Check your policy.  Make sure you have coverage so this kind of thing doesn't happen to them," Eastland advised. 

 She said she can't afford another specially equipped van and that she's  still paying off the old one.

 From now on, she's buying full insurance coverage. 

"Cut your other expenses, finances in other places. Make sure you have that coverage.  When you don't have your car, you're stuck," Eastland said.  

Since the accident, Eastland says she had a hard time getting a lawyer to take her case, until last week when Oakland attorney Susan Kang Gordon  agreed to represent the family pro bono. 

"I can't say no because there's a person behind this story.  There's a little girl that needs us adults to be responsible to take care of a wrong that's been done," Gordon said.  

 The attorney acknowledged a civil lawsuit against the uninsured motorist will be an uphill battle. 

 But the family said they need to fight to close this painful chapter in their lives. If you'd like to help the family buy a new van, click here.