(KNOXVILLE, Tenn.) — Master Sgt. Michael Trost went to his local Tennessee mall last week to do some shopping, buy a new pair of jeans and stop in a sports memorabilia store, all while riding his Segway, which the wounded veteran uses to get around.
Trost, 49, who is unable to walk long distances after suffering four gunshot wounds in his leg while serving in Afghanistan, had been at the Foothills Mall in Maryville, Tenn., for about 45 minutes, when a mall security guard came up to him and told him to leave, according to his wife.
“The security guard approached him and said, ‘You’ve got to get that thing out of here,'” said Stephanie Trost.
Michael Trost had ridden his Segway inside the mall before without incident, so at first he thought the security guard was joking, his wife said, and kind of laughed about it.
“And the guy said, ‘I’m not joking. Get that thing out of here,'” she said.
Stephanie Trost, who is also 49, said her husband then showed the security guard the handicapped sticker on the front of his Segway and told him it was “ADA equipment,” meaning it was designated as a piece of handicapped equipment by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Trost said the security guard then told her husband he was “speeding” and he needed to leave.
Michael Trost, who has served in the U.S. Army for 30 years and was a member of the 489th Army Reserve Unit out of Knoxville, Tenn., was shot four times in the right leg while serving in Afghanistan last year, which left him with severe nerve damage. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his service.
He now suffers from chronic pain that inhibits him from walking for extended periods of time, Stephanie Trost said.
While Trost was receiving treatment for his injuries at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., he applied for a Segway through Seg4Vets, an organization that helps veterans with disabilities. Based on his injuries, the organization gave him a Segway last fall, Stephanie Trost said. His truck is even outfitted to haul the device from place to place.
“He can walk, his walking is just limited….He can’t walk the length of the mall,” his wife said. “[The Segway] gives him that mobility.”
At other stores, Stephanie Trost said her husband will use an electronic wheelchair to get around, but the mall doesn’t have them, so he brings his Segway. The incident at Foothills Mall was the first time his wife said anyone had raised complaints about her husband’s Segway.
“He left. He was really upset and he called me from the parking lot,” she said. “He is still saying he wasn’t doing anything out of the norm.”
After the incident, Stephanie said she called the mall twice to file a formal complaint and left messages, but no one called her back.
Nathan Weinbaum, the director of Veteran Affairs for Blount County, Tenn., told ABC News in a prepared statement that he had met separately with Trost and mall officials to discuss what had happened.
Weinbaum said mall officials told him the security guard received a call that a person was driving a Segway in an “unsafe manner” and that the guard did not ask Trost to leave the mall, only to slow down. He added that officials said the guard was a veteran himself, who did two tours in Vietnam and has a brother who is missing in action, and didn’t know Trost was disabled.
Despite that, Weinbaum said he stands by Trost’s story.
“I think the Foothills Mall should still send Michael a public apology,” the statement said.
Both Weinbaum and Stephanie Trost said that mall officials claim they have 10 employees who issued “testimonies” regarding Trost’s Segway driving, but would not release their names.
Requests for comment from the Foothills Mall general manager and security director were not returned. The mall’s assistant general manager declined to comment and referred to Weinbaum’s statement.
In a statement to ABC News’ Knoxville affiliate, WATE-TV, mall officials said they “permit the use of battery powered scooters and Segways inside the shopping center by people with disabilities. They must be operated in a safe manner.”
A spokeswoman for CBL & Associates Properties, Inc., the Foothills Mall’s corporate office, would only say that the corporate office had been made aware of the incident and was working with local mall officials to sort out what happened.
When it first happened, all the Trosts wanted was an apology and some ADA training for mall employees, Stephanie Trost said. She and her husband met with an attorney Monday, but have not yet decided how to proceed.
“I kind of think somebody overreacted a bit and, even if there was any kind of concern, I think they could have approached it differently,” she said, adding that if the mall can show them security video proving her husband was being reckless, then they would consider dropping the issue.
“This isn’t about him being a veteran,” Stephanie said. “This is about the rights of someone with a disability, that they have the right to use adaptive equipment so they can have normality without being harassed.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
David Shortell, CNN
Shevaun Bryan, CNN