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Paying it forward: Mon Valley woman seeks van to be independent, help disability community

A Monongahela woman with muscular dystrophy who has dedicated a large part of her life to disability advocacy is now in need of a helping hand of her own.

Hannah Sherlock, 31, needs a new wheelchair-accessible van after the 12-year-old vehicle she’d driven since she was a college sophomore broke down the day after Christmas.

The computer system that allowed her to drive the van with hand controls failed, leaving her and her husband, Jared, stranded.

Since then, Sherlock, who had driven “Pequod” (so-named by Sherlock after the ill-fated ship in “Moby Dick”) through college and graduate school, and to and from her teaching position at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, has been mostly stuck at home, with no van.

Friends have started an online fundraiser with the goal of raising $80,000 for a new van equipped with the modifications Sherlock and her wheelchair require.

A model with the computer system and hand controls that would enable Sherlock to drive it – like Pequod – would cost another $35,000, so she and Jared have settled on the van that only he can drive.

Actor Jon Bernthal (of “The Walking Dead” fame), whose Real Ones Podcast newsletter Sherlock writes for, has offered to match donations.

So far, the Go Fund Me has raised $4,558.

“I lived an independent life and it’s gone all of a sudden,” said Sherlock. “But now I’m in a difficult position because I’m married and my husband is an able-bodied person, and I have a degree, and those things mark me as not needing assistance. Paratransit can take me to medical appointments, but nothing else is considered a necessity. I knew when I got the van that eventually there was an expiration date on it, and it lasted even longer than we expected, but those vans are absurdly expensive. You build your whole life around depending on it, and then that’s it.”

Sherlock is hoping her situation will bring awareness to the challenges those who use wheelchairs face and result in improved accessibility to public transportation.

And when she gets a new van, Sherlock wants to pay it forward.

She plans to use the van as a community resource, making it available for anyone in need of accessible transportation.

“We want people in the community to know this van exists, so in an emergency or a non-emergency situation we will be there to help. It will be an informal disability-friendly ride-share service, at no cost,” said Sherlock. “The funding for the van has been a community effort, so the van’s use should be, too.”

Sherlock acknowledged Washington County Transportation Authority’s Freedom Transit, which provides ADA Complementary Paratransit Services.

But for a woman who navigated the world however she pleased, the paratransit service has limitations, such as ride-sharing, limited hours of operation, and no service on Sundays.

“As a government-funded service, we can only do so much, but we do try to provide a service that people can utilize and maintain their independence with. There are restrictions, though. For example, we operate from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., so if you wanted to go out later in the evening, that’s a service we don’t offer,” said Sheila Gombita, executive director of Freedom Transit. “For individuals who have their autonomous ability to drive their own vehicles, it would be limiting.”

Sherlock has met with Monongahela City Council and other community leaders to discuss her volunteer “taxi service” and sits on a committee that recently received a WalksWork grant that promotes the creation, enhancement, and use of activity-friendly routes connecting everyday destinations throughout the commonwealth.

Since Sherlock was diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy at age 9, she has spent her life focusing on what she can do instead of what she can’t do.

Sherlock, Jared and Pumpkin, their corgi-German shepherd mix, moved to Monongahela in August 2022.

She grew up poor, in the Southern Appalachians of West Virginia, the daughter of a single mom who moved them to Myrtle Beach, S.C., when she was 14.

“But I was raised with lots and lots of love,” said Sherlock.

A stellar student who excelled in the classroom (21 uninterrupted years of A’s, she joked) Sherlock began showing signs of muscular dystrophy at 5 years old.

“Part of my childhood was being in and out of the hospital and always having medical concerns, but I found some steadiness in school and I got super invested in it and was really good at it and I became hyper-focused on it,” said Sherlock.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in literature at Coastal Carolina University, and earned her masters degree and doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee – Knoxville, where she taught until moving to Southwestern Pennsylvania.

She writes a blog, Head Over Wheels, where she shares her experiences as a woman with a disability and advocates for those living with a disability.

Sherlock’s friends said the new van will give her back her independence and let her continue advocating for others – and allow them to stop worrying about her so much.

“This is something she really needs in order to live her life in any kind of way you’d want anyone you love to live their life,” said Maggie Wright of Seattle, Wash., who helped organize the fundraiser. “I think getting her this van is as much a mobility device as her wheelchair is.”

On the Go Fund Me page, Wright wrote, “Hannah has dedicated a huge part of her life to disability advocacy. Her heart is enormous and through knowing her we have all come to see how much of her desire to help others forms her everyday life. Much of our time together is spent discussing ways to open eyes to a new way of seeing the world, the realities of living with a disability, and how the system has failed others less fortunate than herself.”

Sherlock is reluctant to rely on the generosity of others, but is moved by the kindness of the friends who launched the fundraiser and the generosity of Bernthal for matching it.

“This has been enlightening in a lot of ways and super frustrating in other ways. I wish I didn’t need help. I’ve worked to overcome my disability in as many ways as I could. There is an idea that a disability shouldn’t be limiting, and it shouldn’t be. But a lot of people with a disability won’t be able to overcome that disability, and that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be able to lead a fulfilling life,” said Sherlock.

“I had the chance to be least disabled by going to college and going out on my own. That’s great, but this has been eye-opening in the sense that there is a much more common disabled experience, which is not leaving a 10-block radius except going to a doctor’s appointment. That’s surviving, but not really living. I want to help change that.”

To donate to New Wheels for Hannah, visit

Debt limit talks halted again at Capitol as Republicans, White House face 'real differences'
Debt limit talks have stopped again at the Capitol after having suddenly resumed Friday night
  • Updated

WASHINGTON – Debt limit talks halted again late Friday at the U.S. Capitol shortly after resuming, another sudden turn of events after negotiations had come to an abrupt standstill earlier in the day when Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said it’s time to “pause” negotiations, and a White House official acknowledged there are “real differences.”

Top Republican negotiators for McCarthy exited the brief meeting shortly after talks restarted Friday evening. They said there were no further negotiations planned for Friday and they were uncertain on next steps. But a top White House adviser to President Joe Biden said they were hopeful for a resolution. The negotiators are racing to strike a budget deal to resolve the standoff.

“We reengaged, had a very, very candid discussion, talking about where we are, talking about where things need to be, what’s reasonably acceptable,” said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., a top McCarthy ally leading the talks for his side.

Another Republican negotiator, Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, said McCarthy had left for the night, and they would be briefing the speaker on the latest developments.

Asked if he was confident an agreement over budget issues could be reached with the White House, McHenry said, “No.”

As the White House team left the nighttime session, counselor to the president Steve Ricchetti, who is leading talks for the Democrats, said he was hopeful for an outcome. “We’re going to keep working,” he said.

Biden’s administration is reaching for a deal with Republicans led by McCarthy as the nation careens toward a potentially catastrophic debt default if the government fails to increase the borrowing limit, now at $31 trillion, to keep paying the nation’s bills.

Earlier in the day, McCarthy said resolution to the standoff is “easy,” if only Biden’s team would agree to some spending cuts Republicans are demanding. The biggest impasse was over the fiscal 2024 top-line budget amount, according to a person briefed on the talks and granted anonymity to discuss them. Democrats staunchly oppose the steep reductions Republicans have put on the table as potentially harmful to Americans.

“We’ve got to get movement by the White House and we don’t have any movement yet,” McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters at the Capitol. “So, yeah, we’ve got to pause.”

The White House official, who was granted anonymity to talk about the private discussions, had said at that time there are “real differences” between the parties on the budget issues and further “talks will be difficult.”

The official added that the president’s team is working hard towards a “reasonable bipartisan solution” that can pass both the House and the Senate.

Wall Street turned lower as negotiations on raising the nation’s debt limit came to a sudden halt, raising worries that the country could edge closer to risking a highly damaging default on U.S. government debt.

The president, who has been in Japan attending the Group of Seven summit, had no immediate comment. Biden had already planned to cut short the rest of his trip and he is expected to return to Washington Sunday.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden had planned to be briefed on the negotiations by his team Friday evening. Biden had departed early from a Friday night dinner with G7 leaders in Hiroshima.

Negotiators met Friday for a third day behind closed doors at the Capitol with hopes of settling on an agreement this weekend before possible House votes next week. They face a looming deadline as soon as June 1, when the Treasury Department has said it will run out of cash to pay the government’s incurred debt.

Republicans want to extract steep spending cuts, arguing the nation’s deficit spending needs to get under control, rolling back spending to fiscal 2022 levels and restricting future growth. But Biden’s team is countering that the caps Republicans proposed in their House-passed bill would amount to 30% reductions in some programs if Defense and veterans are spared, according to a memo from the Office of Management and Budget.

Any deal would need the support of both Republicans and Democrats to find approval in a divided Congress and be passed into law. Negotiators are eyeing a more narrow budget cap deal of a few years, rather than the decade-long caps Republicans initially wanted, and clawing back some $30 billion of unspent COVID-19 funds.

Still up for debate are policy changes, including a framework for permitting reforms to speed the development of energy projects, as well as the Republican push to impose work requirements on government aid recipients that Biden has been open to but the House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries has said was a “nonstarter.”

“Look, we can’t be spending more money next year,” McCarthy said at the Capitol. “We have to spend less than we spent the year before. It’s pretty easy.”

But McCarthy faces pressures from his hard-right flank to cut the strongest deal possible for Republicans, and he risks a threat to his leadership as speaker if he fails to deliver. Many House Republicans are unlikely to accept any deal with the White House.

The internal political dynamics confronting the embattled McCarthy leaves the Democrats skeptical of giving away too much to the Republicans and driving off the Democratic support they will need to pass any compromise through Congress.

Experts have warned that even the threat of a debt default would send shockwaves through the economy.

Markets had been rising this week on hopes of a deal. But that shifted abruptly Friday after negotiators ended late morning an hour after they had begun.

Graves, McCarthy’s lead negotiator, emerged from an hourlong session at the Capitol and said gaps remained between House Republicans and the Democratic administration.

“It’s time to press pause because it’s just not productive,” Graves told reporters.

He added that the negotiations have become “just unreasonable” and that it was unclear when talks would resume.

McHenry, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said there is a “serious gap” between the sides.

“We’re in a tough spot,” McHenry said as he left the meeting.

The S&P 500 went from a gain of 0.3% to a loss of 0.1% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average went from a gain of 117 points to a loss of about 90 points.

As Republicans demand spending cuts and policy changes, Biden is facing increased pushback from Democrats, particularly progressives, who argue the reductions will fall too heavily on domestic programs that Americans rely on.

Some Democrats want Biden to invoke his authority under the 14th amendment to raise the debt ceiling on his own, an idea that raises legal questions and that the president has so far said he is not inclined to consider.

Pressure on McCarthy comes from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which said late Thursday there should be no further discussions until the Senate takes action on the House Republican plan. That bill approved last month would raise the debt limit into 2024 in exchange for spending caps and policy changes. Biden has said he would veto that Republican measure.

In the Senate, which is controlled by majority Democrats, the Republican leader Mitch McConnell has taken a backseat publicly, and is pushing Biden to strike a deal directly with McCarthy.

McConnell blamed Biden for having “waited months before agreeing to negotiate” with the speaker.

“They are the only two who can reach an agreement,” McConnell said in a tweet. “It is past time for the White House to get serious. Time is of the essence.”

Miller reported from Hiroshima, Japan. Associated Press Business Writer Stan Choe and writers Kevin Freking, Seung Min Kim, Stephen Groves and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

Route 18/50 intersection near Hickory to reopen this weekend despite setbacks

The intersection at Route 18 and Route 50 near Hickory, which has been closed to traffic since May 9 while crews rebuilt the heavily traveled junction, will reopen on schedule this weekend despite two different motorists who disobeyed the closure within hours of each other Monday and drove through fresh cement before getting bogged down and stuck.

Construction crews had just laid down the top layer of cement when a tractor-trailer driver heading south on Route 18 took his rig around the signs and barrels indicating the closure, causing the vehicle to leave deep tire marks in the soft material, Mount Pleasant Township police Chief Matthew Tharp said.

Less than four hours later, a motorcyclist and his passenger stopped in the same area of the closure site, but then got off their bike to remove construction barrels before attempting to continue through the intersection, Tharp said. Their motorcycle immediately sunk into the cement and got stuck.

Tharp declined to identify the drivers of either vehicle because charges are still pending against both of them while crews estimate the cost of the damage and additional resources it took to fix the roadway. He added that surveillance cameras in the area caught both incidents, giving investigators video recordings of what occurred.

“That’s the whole point of signage,” Tharp said of the closure to allow crews to safely work and give time for the cement to cure. “There was signage, and they both drove around barricades. (The construction crews) put up additional barricades before the motorcycle, which (the passenger) moved.”

Crews from Eurovia Atlantic Coast LLC apparently were able to salvage some segments of the roadway, but had to jack-hammer out other areas and lay the cement again, Tharp said.

Even with the setback, the intersection is still scheduled to reopen on time Saturday afternoon following 12 straight days of work, state Department of Transportation spokesman Joel Morris said.

Morris also reminded motorists to follow traffic signs and detours, while also never driving around traffic cones or barrels in a work zone.

“With any work zone, we ask motorists to pay attention to all signage that is in place,” Morris said. “The signage is there to ensure the safety of the traveling public and the crews in the work zone.”

The work was part of an $8.1 million project reconstructing the intersection and making other improvements along Route 18 heading toward Washington. Route 50 remained open throughout the project, along with the other sections of Route 18. Detours were in place to divert traffic onto Route 980 in order to avoid the intersection.