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Power of community: Florence residents make new van possible for paralyzed police officer

Posted at 10:00 AM, Mar 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-02 12:08:29-05

FLORENCE – The town of Florence is small in size, but just proved it has a very large sense of community.  Community members rallied to help a neighbor and former police officer who was paralyzed when he was shot on duty.

Going on 18 years ago, Toby Bethel, was shot during the manhunt for the Stovall brothers who were on the run after shooting another law enforcement officer. Bethel’s injuries put him in wheelchair.

Since then he has been getting around in a van that was generously donated. In 2001, it was used, but in good shape. These days, it breaks down, and Bethel gets stranded.

“We knew there was a need for a new one,” said Nancy Barth. She works at Florence Police Department. A Gofundme campaign raised close to $13 thousand and then stalled. The town’s Elks Lodge members then decided to rally the community. “We picked it up and ran with it,” said Elks Lodge member, Barbara Batulis.”

There were auctions, raffles and a lot volunteering. What happened to Bethel 18 years ago is not a lost memory for a large number of Florence locals. “He gave his life for us, put it on the line for us and it was time that we gave back,” said Batulis.  The Elks lodge effort raised more than $27 thousand in addition to the previous funding.

Sitting next to a new van Toby Bethel tells the people who raised the money for it, “I didn’t expect anything like this,” He is clearly humbled by the caring generosity of his community. “There is no way I could’ve said thank you to everyone.” He is also very grateful.