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Frank Gray

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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Jason Garcia shows the wheelchair that was stolen from his front porch. The chair, costing $2,800, granted him freedom.

Path to freedom stolen from porch

Jason Garcia was born 43 years ago with cerebral palsy.

He spent three years in a full body cast in a Shriners hospital, undergoing numerous surgeries to enable him to walk, but it didn’t work, says his sister, Kim Runkle.

He can get himself across a room by dragging himself along the floor. He’s tried using crutches, but when he does his ankles break, he says.

So he’s always used a wheelchair.

Years ago, Garcia and his father began to save their money, and in 2004, just before Garcia’s father died of mesothelioma, they bought a custom-built, custom-fitted racing wheelchair, a $2,800 model called the Quickie 2.

It was his Cadillac, Runkle said. It gave Garcia unmatched freedom for a man who couldn’t even stand.

It wasn’t electric. It was a manual chair, which Garcia prefers, because using his arms to propel himself keeps his upper body in shape and prevents his arms from atrophying the way his legs have.

Garcia, who moved to Fort Wayne from Colorado a year ago to live with his mother, kept the chair on the front porch of their home at 1945 Spring St.

It became routine for him to drag himself down the porch steps, lift himself into the chair and take off across his lawn to an alley that eventually led him anywhere he wanted to go – the grocery, the drugstore, downtown. He’d travel miles at a time.

Garcia could pull wheelies and jump curbs, Runkle said, and he boasts that his chair, an all-terrain model that doesn’t even get stuck in sand, could outrun any electric wheelchair.

Until Monday morning.

On Sunday evening, Garcia had left his chair by the steps to the porch in front of their home, a spot that was obscured by a steep hill that leads down to his house. On Monday afternoon, when Garcia went to run an errand, the chair was gone.

Garcia is crushed, but his entire family is outraged.

“How dark of a soul do you have to have to do something like this?” Runkle asked. “There’s monsters out there, and they pick on people who can’t defend themselves.”

“It’s cruel,” said Garcia’s mother, Barb Garcia. “It’s disgusting. Who would take someone’s legs away from them?”

“Now he’s trapped,” Runkle says. “He can’t go any further than his front porch.”

The Garcias reported the theft to police, but Barb Garcia was actually hoping that the chair would reappear. “I truly thought that someone would feel ashamed and bring it back,” she said.

But after a day, it became clear that whoever stole the chair has no conscience, she said.

Runkle wants to get the word out about the chair. She wants everyone to know it was a blue and black Quickie 2, just so whoever took it can’t profit from it, and in hopes that if someone just took it for a joyride and abandoned it, someone will recognize it.

Either way, stealing a wheelchair from a man who can’t stand is about as low as you can go.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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