“Goodbye good van. Your replacement will have big tires to fill. I will drive again.”

Pianka’s van was totaled in a Dec. 8 accident in Springfield. Courtesy of Christopher Cignoli via GoFundMe

A quadriplegic Springfield woman connected with the world through her specially equipped van. Then an uninsured driver totaled it.

Andrea Pianka, who has been quadriplegic for over 20 years as the result of another car accident, was left with a totaled van and without her independence.

“Other than my powerchair, this van was my first taste of freedom following my first accident,” she wrote on Facebook. “I remember the joy and pride I always felt being able to drive to work, to see and enjoy my horses and anywhere else! I even enjoyed driving my parents around after they transported me for so many years. 70,000 miles of adventures and fun.”

Christopher Cognoli, Director of Public Works in Springfield, has known Pianka for many years through her father, who runs the department’s fleet division.

“She’s always been a presence for us. Everyone at the Department of Public Works knows her, and we wanted to jump in and do whatever it takes to help,” he told Boston.com.

Cognoli created a GoFundMe for Pianka Dec. 29. The fundraiser aims to raise $35,000 to provide Pianka with a new van. Pianka’s condition requires the van to be modified with special controls, which include a lift for her wheelchair, a lock into the driver’s seat, and controls adjacent to her hands. 

There is a company that will gut the vehicle and install the modifications for free, Cognoli said — but it requires the purchase of a brand new van, which he estimates will cost between $45,000 and $50,000, excluding insurance.

On Dec. 8, an alleged uninsured driver blew through a red light at the intersection of Bay Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield and collided with Andrea Pianka’s van, according to the GoFundMe fundraiser. On the same day, a spokesman for Springfield police told 22News that a wanted felon in the same area evaded police after a crash.

Pianka posted a tribute to her old van on Facebook after the accident, which left her severely injured. 

“We cannot live in bubbles,” she wrote. “Bad things happen, sometimes twice or more, but we have to keep going. That is life. Goodbye good van. Your replacement will have big tires to fill. I will drive again.”

Cognoli said he was “blown away” by her words: “it shows who she is: 100% positive, positive, positive … Life from beginning to end is a bit more difficult for her, so we are doing anything we can to help.”


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