TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s a crime that makes you cringe. Two kids stole a specialized wheelchair van, leaving a man who is paralyzed from the neck down without his mode of transportation.
But, thanks to the quick thinking of a witness and Tampa police, the victim and his wife now have their van back.
“I was excited,” Margarita Chapman told News Channel 8.
Chapman is breathing a sigh of relief. Her husband Eric has ALS and the van is his only means of getting anywhere. “To my husband, it was devastating because he thought we were never going to get it back,” Margarita Chapman said.
It was stolen last week after Margarita Chapman accidentally dropped the keys in the couple’s driveway. The next morning, the van was gone.
Eric was devastated. He couldn’t go anywhere so he never got out of bed.
Police say 15-year-old Julius Royal and 14-year-old Lemeyah Lloyd stole the van and parked it in a driveway about a mile from the couple’s home. Police say both suspects have extensive criminal histories.
“That’s so sad,” said Rosalyn Brown, who said her neighbor asked her if he could park it there.
Brown knew something wasn’t right so she called police.
She is glad to have helped the Chapmans get their van back. “I feel good about that,” Brown said.
The Chapmans told News Channel 8 the story behind the van. The woman who gave the van to the them had a son who died of ALS. She believed in paying it forward, and helping Eric, but only with the promise the van would be given to someone else.
“It’s a gift that keeps on giving to people in need because that’s very expensive, a wheelchair accessible van for somebody who, you don’t prepare for this,” Margarita Chapman said.
The couple certainly wasn’t prepared for Eric’s diagnosis but they’re fighters so a stolen van isn’t too much in the grand scheme of things. “We didn’t need to go through any of this,” Margarita said. “Was just ridiculous, unnecessary. But grateful at the end the van is fixable.”
The damage to the van comes out to be about $2,000. Margarita Chapman told News Channel 8 people are helping out.