The owner of a wheelchair that was destroyed when a university hockey player shoved it down a flight of stairs spoke out after the viral video of the incident sparked outrage.
Sydney Benes is a 22-year-old student at Slippery Rock University in the Slippery Rock Township in Pennsylvania. She has relied on a wheelchair since an August 2021 car accident resulted in the amputation of both her legs.
She recently found herself embroiled in a news story involving 23-year-old Mercyhurst University hockey player Carson Briere, who was caught on video pushing her mobility device down the stairs.
“There's gonna be some crappy people in the world,” Benes told Yahoo Life.
“But there's usually a lot more good people, if you give them the chance to be.”
The incident occurred on March 11 at Benes' favorite local bar, Sullivan’s Pub, where the staff happily arranges for her to be carried downstairs since the bathroom is on the basement floor.
The establishment, built in the late 1800s, does not have a main floor bathroom and isn't wheelchair accessible.
Nate Sanders, the pub's security manager, said of the bar's favorite customer:
"When she has to use the bathroom, she'll usually either text me or grab one of my security guys."
"Everyone is happy to do it, we're all good friends with Sydney."
The surveillance footage showed Briere with 21-year-old Mercyhurst lacrosse player Patrick Carrozzi.
Briere sat on Benes' wheelchair at the top of the stairs, then got up and casually pushed it as Carrozzi watched.
They both then walked away.
Here is the footage shared by the bar's manager, Julia Zukowski.
Mobility equipment like the custom manual wheelchair Benes uses can be very expensive, especially if insurance doesn't cover it.
According to My Reference Tools, wheelchairs can cost $500; a chair meant for daily use can run up to $2,000.
Benes was devastated to find her wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs with noticeable damage to the brake, armrest, and frame, all of which she said was "bent or broken" in some way.
“My chair is the way I get around. It’s my legs." she said.
“I was hoping it was just an accident and that somebody maybe drunkenly bumped it or something."
The bar took immediate action.
After Sanders identified the young men in the footage, he forced them to apologize to Benes, which she recalled was "quite insincere."
Briere and Carrozzi were subsequently escorted from the building and banned from the bar.
Sullivan's set up a GoFundMe page to help cover repair costs for her broken wheelchair, which she bought for $2,000 in 2021. Though she initially wished to remain anonymous, Benes ultimately identified herself in a tweet and expressed gratitude for the support.
After her story went viral, Benes decided to speak out in solidarity with those with disabilities.
"Hi im Sydney and it was my chair that was pushed down the stairs. I’m so thankful for all of Sullivan’s help in this situation and the kind comments I see on Julia’s post."
"I swear I really don’t wanna keep a cent of the donated money, I’d much rather give it to those who need it."
Zukowski's tweet of the surveillance footage led to the suspension of the Mercyhurst athletes from their respective teams due to their involvement in the incident.
The University issued a statement that mentioned a third student:
“After conducting an initial investigation into the incidents depicted on social media, the Mercyhurst University Athletic Department has determined that three individuals in the video are student-athletes."
"We have placed all three on interim suspension from their athletic teams per school policy, pending the outcome of the investigative process.”
Briere later expressed his regrets, saying:
“I am deeply sorry for my behavior on Saturday."
"There is no excuse for my actions, and I will do whatever I can to make up for this serious lack of judgment.”
His father, Philadelphia Flyers General Manager and former NHL forward Daniel Briere, was appalled.
“I was shocked to see Carson’s actions in the video that was shared on social media yesterday,” he said in a statement.
“They are inexcusable and run completely counter to our family’s values on treating people with respect."
"Carson is very sorry and accepts full responsibility for his behavior.”
On Monday, the Erie Police slapped Briere and Carrozzi with misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief, criminal conspiracy to commit mischief, and disorderly conduct, according to court documents.
To date, Benes' GoFundMe page has raised $9,000.
"I'm using the GoFundMe donations to help fix my chair but all the rest is going to the disabled community and to people who really need the help," she said.
Benes also told the media outlet she plans to donate a portion of the donations to the Slippery Rock Fire Department, which helped save her life in the 2021 car accident.
More support for Benes followed.
Benes doesn't want people to view her as a victim, but wants them to think twice about people with disabilities before making assumptions about them.
"We're people, too," she said, adding:
"We deserve to be treated with respect. And our things deserve to be treated with just as much respect."