(ERIE, Pa.) — Sydney Benes, a Mercyhurst University student whose unattended wheelchair was pushed down stairs in a viral video, hopes her story can be used for change and she can be an advocate for others in her situation.
The incident occurred March 11 at Sullivan’s Pub in Erie, Pennsylvania. A video posted to Twitter shows fellow student Carson Briere pushing Benes’ wheelchair down the stairs at the eatery and walking away.
Benes, a double amputee who lost her legs in a car accident in 2021, uses the chair while learning to use her prosthetics.
“All that was going through my head was ‘man I hope this was an accident, I hope that this wasn’t on purpose,” Benes told ABC News.
Nate Sanders, head of security at Sullivan’s Pub, said he was helping Benes go into the bathroom downstairs when he heard a loud noise.
“We heard something that sounded like somebody falling down the steps. We went out and checked, didn’t see any sign of anybody falling, but when it was time to bring her back up the stairs, we found her chair at the bottom of the steps,” he told ABC News.
Once they checked the footage, Sanders said they identified who it was, forced the boys to apologize to Benes, and escorted them out of the establishment.
“I grabbed him on the shoulders and said, ‘I’ve got video of you tossing a wheelchair down the steps like it’s time to go,” he said.
Sanders said the two student-athletes are now banned from the bar.
While there has been a GoFundMe created for Benes, she said she didn’t intend to keep all of the money raised to replace the broken wheelchair even though the goal was exceeded. Instead, she wants to donate the money to other causes and hopes this is an opportunity for change and fair treatment of people who are disabled.
“I can use it to show people what we go through, what we have to deal with, and how we wish to be treated,” she said. “We are treated like things, like second-class citizens; we’re not treated with respect.”
Mercyhurst University said Carson Briere and two other student-athletes were placed on an interim suspension from their athletic teams, per school policy, pending the outcome of the investigation. Briere has issued an apology.
“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,” he said.
Briere’s father, interim Philadelphia Flyers GM Daniel Briere, also issued a statement of apology on his son’s behalf.
“I was shocked to see Carson’s actions in the video that was shared on social media. They are inexcusable and run completely counter to our family’s values of treating people with respect. Carson is very sorry and accepts full responsibility for his behavior,” he said.
ABC News reached out to the Erie Police Department for comment on the investigation and has not heard back.
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