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Times tough, but help arrives for crash victim

Mark Peterson, right, of the KXLY Extreme  Team  and Bob Wright of Wright Brothers Sunrooms work on a bathroom Thursday. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON / The Spokesman-Review)
Mark Peterson, right, of the KXLY Extreme Team and Bob Wright of Wright Brothers Sunrooms work on a bathroom Thursday. (CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON / The Spokesman-Review)

Paralyzed when hit, motorcyclist also lost his wife

For Gary Keller, knowing what to mourn and what to celebrate these past 3 ½ months has been a challenge.

Because of the act of one alleged drunken driver, Keller’s wife, Lorri, was killed in a motorcycle crash June 4, and Keller was left paraplegic.

The spiral of life-changing events didn’t stop there.

From his bed at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Center in Spokane, where he has been recovering since the crash, Keller retired from his 40-year career with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, celebrated his 60th birthday, buried his father, and was forced to sell the dream home he and his wife built in Mead because it couldn’t accommodate a wheelchair.

“It still doesn’t seem real,” said Jon Mahn, Keller’s son-in-law. “I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”

What is real is that Keller will finally return home Wednesday after months in the hospital, to the house he bought next door to his daughter Shelly Mahn and her husband, Jon, in Spokane Valley.

And with the help of dozens of businesses donating time and materials, the KXLY 4 Extreme Team is helping to make Keller’s new home handicap-accessible, easing his transition.

“Every once in a while it’s great to find some news that people are actually helping people,” Shelly Mahn said. “We are so grateful.”

Keller has had to fight for continued insurance coverage for his long stay in the hospital, and the insurance won’t help pay for anything “not medically necessary,” such as a home that accommodates a wheelchair, Shelly Mahn said.

The railroad donated $4,500 to help with the remodel. KXLY relies on the donations of local builders to help with home makeovers. The show is modeled after the ABC series “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

“It’s hard times for the building industry. We rely a lot on the excess materials from jobs,” said Mark Peterson, KXLY’s Extreme Team host.

The project was almost scaled back after the station discovered it wasn’t able to get a live feed from Keller’s house, at the south end of the Painted Hills Golf Course. But local businesses agreed to help despite the lack of live coverage. It will be taped for viewers.

While much of the project is being kept a secret from Keller and his family until the big reveal, improvements will include a ramp and a new front door. A host of modifications inside will make the house wheelchair accessible, including new floors, wider doors and hallways, and an updated bathroom. The team hopes to have it done in time for Keller’s homecoming.

Shelly Mahn said her father is eager to leave the hospital but nervous about what awaits him.

“He’s nervous about going home and Lorri not being there,” Shelly Mahn said. “He came a couple of weeks ago and thought it was going to make him happy, but he says it’s not his home.

“There’s so many neat things happening, but it’s under horrible circumstances that this all had to happen,” she said. “It’s bittersweet.”