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Wheelchair Mom Found Innocent

March 12, 1999

SANDUSKY, Ohio (AP) _ With her 5-year-old daughter sitting on her lap, Kelly Dillery rolled her wheelchair out of the courtroom as the cheering from her supporters grew louder.

Ms. Dillery was acquitted Thursday of charges that she endangered the child by riding along streets with the girl strapped to her lap.

Disability activists had rallied to her defense and railed against prosecutors for bringing the case.

``This reaffirms for all of us that we have a right to live our own lives,″ said Mary Butler, director of the Center for Independent Living in nearby Elyria.

Ms. Dillery, 30, hugged her lawyers upon hearing the verdict and wiped away tears as relatives rushed from their seats to embrace her. She could have been sentenced to six months in jail and fined $1,000.

Instead, she said she is now ``just looking forward to being with Kelsi,″ her daughter.

Ms. Dillery, who has muscular dystrophy, was charged after a driver told police that Kelsi had hit her head on the mirror of a car.

Prosecutor Rob DeLamatre said Ms. Dillery was putting Kelsi in danger by riding in traffic. Police have suggested alternative ways of travel, but she continues to ride in the street, he said.

Ms. Dillery says she must travel in the street because some sidewalks aren’t accessible to her wheelchair.

Defense attorney K. Ronald Bailey argued that prosecutors and police pretended to know how the handicapped should conduct themselves without knowing anything about the limitations of their conditions.

``They’ve never sat in the seat of a wheelchair, but they can tell you what it must be like,″ Bailey told the jury in closing arguments.

Ms. Dillery previously had been convicted twice of using her wheelchair in a street and was fined $50 for each offense.

More than a dozen of her supporters sat in wheelchairs in a lobby outside the cramped courtroom and cheered when they heard the verdict announced on closed-circuit television.

Some wore pink and green buttons saying ``Ban cars, not Kelly.″

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