A new low: 8 vehicles serving York County’s disabled vandalized

Herald columnistOctober 2, 2012 

Crime in York County has reached a new low – thieves are stealing from the agency that helps people in wheelchairs.

Sometime over the weekend, someone cut the catalytic converters out of the exhaust systems of eight vehicles owned by the York County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs.

The disabilities board, a non-profit agency, serves close to 1,000 of the most needy among us each week in residential programs, vocational rehabilitation, in-home support programs and other crucial services.

Mary Poole, the agency’s executive director, called the latest crime against disabled people “awful.”

Warren Norman, a member of the group’s board of directors, called the targeting of equipment used to help disabled people “insane.”

The non-profit agency helps people without legs or arms or without the ability to talk, or those with developmental disabilities who just need a little help from the rest of us to have the dignity of life.

“Horrible,” is how another board member, Rusty Myers, described the thefts. “It is almost like the next crime we hear about would be somebody taking the gold out of a dead man’s teeth.”

Worse, the thefts happened at two places during the same time period between Friday and the discovery of the thefts on Monday.

The agency’s main office on Park Place outside York – near the sheriff’s office and jail – saw four vans and a maintenance truck hit. At the disabilities board offices on Bryant Boulevard near the Rock Hill-York County Airport – where hundreds of people go each day for vocational training and transportation to and from jobs – another two vans had the converters cut off.

The converters appeared to have been sawed off “clean” by using an electric saw, a police report shows. Both the York County Sheriff’s Office and Rock Hill Police Department have assigned detectives to the thefts, which are being investigated as likely related.

Catalytic converters have an interior coating of precious metals – usually platinum, rhodium or palladium – that makes the converters prized for resale. Converters can sometimes fetch as much as $150 if scrap yards do not check to see if the items might have been stolen, say automotive experts.

The damage to the vehicles is at least $200 each, Poole said. Another mini-bus will cost more than $1,000 to fix.

“Isn’t there a better way to steal than from a non-profit?” Poole asked Tuesday. “And a non-profit that serves people who are disabled?”

Security cameras at the main office in York did not capture the thefts on video, Poole said.

Client services were not affected Monday and Tuesday, Poole said, as workers were able to use residential-home vans and other agency vehicles. Dedicated staffers drove extra routes, stayed extra hours – whatever needed to be done – to make sure clients were not hurt by the “senseless” crimes, Poole said.

In 2008, thieves cut fuel lines and stole gasoline from several disability board vans. And another time, a bunch of vehicles that serve the disabled were vandalized and thieves took cellphones, a fire extinguisher – even first aid kits.

The most recent thefts show that crime, and criminals, have stooped even lower than stealing the gas in the vans or the Band-Aids workers would use to cover a cut.

“The people that the board of disabilities helps are those in our community who cannot help themselves – the very people we should be helping,” said Norman. “To steal from them is, well, it’s sick.”

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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