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Meals on Wheels still repairing stolen, trashed van found in Seattle


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RICHLAND, Wash. -- It's been two months since a Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels delivery van went missing.

Leaders with the non-profit say the van is used to send 600 meals into the Tri-Cities every single day.

The program's nutrition services director Kristi Thien says even though it was stolen in the dark of night, they kept an eye out.

"Oh man, I did U-turns and was following people," she says. "A lot of us were just following white vans."

At one point she says they even heard from Richland police.

"They were following one of our other vans for awhile because, you know, they want to help us too," Kristi says. "It's a 1998 van so its life probably isn't super long but we were going to keep it as long as we can because it's filling a role for us."

Eventually RPD heard back from another police department on the west side of Washington.

Police had located the van, but it was trashed and abandoned in Seattle.

Program director Grant Baynes was sent to retrieve the van, but it's condition was worse than anticipated.

"She was sitting in the impound yard all muddy and amongst a whole bunch of other old cars," He says. "It was raining of course by then, because why wouldn't it?"

Grant says it was missing brake lights, turn signals, and $5,000 worth of equipment.

Because of the strong smell, he tells Action News he thinks whoever took the van used it to transport large quantities marijuana to the other side of the state.

"It was really smelly inside and the logos were whited out," he says. "It was filled with dirt, quite a lot of leaf and lots of other nasty stuff. It'd been treated pretty roughly."

Even after hours spent scraping paint from windows and airing things out, Grant says their hard work will pay off.

"The cost of replacing it is pretty expensive," he explains. "She's worth more value to us here, so we really wanted to get it back if we could."

Kristi says the community support has been overwhelming.

"I was sick to death talking about the van because everywhere I went people just wanted to know," she explains. "One lady called and said, 'You served my husband before he died and I want to help contribute to a new van'. We had lots of calls like that and people would get very emotional."

Now, after a month of hard work and deep-cleaning, the van is almost ready to return to service.

Meals on Wheels tells Action News there are still no leads on who stole the van but they plan to have it back on the road as soon as they replace $5,000 of stolen equipment.

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"It was good to bring it home," Grant says. "And now we've got 'the club' on [the steering wheel] as a way to slow anybody down if they ever come back to try and get it again."

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