Neighbors hope to put Falmouth man back in driver’s seat

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FALMOUTH — The only time Peter Leeman, 62, feels free and not hampered by his disability is when he’s driving.

But Leeman, who has had to use a wheelchair since an automobile accident in 1974, has been stuck at home for months since he learned it would cost $30,000 to transfer the special electronic mobility controls that allow him to drive from his old van to a newer one.

And although he hates to ask for help, Leeman has been surprised at the outpouring of support he’s received from various community organizations and from Foreside Community Church, which he attends.

To help with the expense of installing his specialty driving equipment, Leeman recently received a $5,000 grant from the Travis Roy Foundation. His church is also sponsoring a benefit concert, called Vanapalooza, on Friday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m.

The concert will be held at the historic Falmouth Congregational Church on Falmouth Road, and performers will include singer-songwriter Kate Schrock and violinist and pianist Aban Zirikly. The suggested donation is $10 and children are free. Call 781-5880 for more information.

In addition to the grant from the Travis Roy Foundation, Leeman has also received funds from the Falmouth Lions Club, the Falmouth Food Pantry and the Foreside Community Church. He also has a GoFundMe page and Bath Savings Bank on U.S. Route 1 has set has set up a special account, called the Peter Leeman Van Fund, to receive donations.

Leeman has lived in Falmouth his entire life. He became a quadriplegic when he and a friend were involved in a drunk driving accident that claimed his friend’s life. The two were seniors in high school at the time.

Leeman eventually graduated and also was able to attend college for a couple years. He worked for a time, too, mostly in the insurance industry, but has been on full disability for several years because he’s simply not well enough to work anymore; he lacks the stamina to sit up for hours at a time.

“I don’t like asking for help,” Leeman said. “I’d rather do things myself. I hate asking, but this is just too much (money) to do on my own. It means a lot to me and I’m surprised people are willing to do this for me. The only time I don’t feel handicapped is when I’m driving. It gives me a lot of freedom.”

At home, Leeman relies on the help of a personal-care attendant, who comes every morning and evening. He also gets help with cleaning and cooking, but he enjoys shopping on his own and getting out to socialize.

But after his old handicapped van was no longer fit to drive, Leeman said he has “been stuck at home” and “can’t really go anywhere. Only as far as my wheelchair takes me, which isn’t far in the winter. I just wasn’t expecting this big expense for transferring my driving controls.”

Susan Gilpin, who attends the Foreside Community Church along with Leeman, said she first realized he needed help with vehicle expenses when she saw him “one rainy day this fall riding down the street in his wheelchair with just a poncho to protect him.”

She remembers thinking, “We have got to do something about this” and that’s when she got others involved to help with the fundraising. Gilpin has also been a key organizer of the upcoming benefit concert and sees it as “a fun way for people to turn out and support Peter. It’s going to be a great evening.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Peter Leeman of Falmouth needs help paying the $30,000 cost to equip hs new van with special driving controls.