Veronica Erwin has a prosthetic leg and foot, but she still walks uncountable steps every day at Rock Hill’s Kwik Klean laundry. Eight hours a day, she pushes a broom and washes and folds other people’s clothes.
She is by no means wealthy, but she sees people at the Albright Road laundry on the city’s southern edge who are worse off financially than she. Her hand goes into her pocket and always comes out with something for somebody who might need a decent meal.
For years, Erwin, 52, also has stood at every Winthrop University home basketball game, cheering and waving. Sometimes she makes a sign and waves that. When one arm gets tired, she uses the other. She cheers until her throat hurts.
On Tuesday, somebody took advantage of the woman who works and cheers on one leg.
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A man walked into the laundry and spoke with Erwin. He made nice. She spoke to him as kindly as she speaks to everyone who comes into her world.
But this man waited for Erwin to empty the trash, and as her back was turned at the other end of the building, the man crawled long the floor, slithering like a snake, and stole the day’s receipts for which Erwin had worked so hard.
“At first he talked to me,” Erwin said. “I told him how I wanted to sell my car. He even went out and looked under the hood.
“But then, the same man, he stole. I feel scared and violated.”
The thief asked Erwin to change a $20 bill, even asked her for toilet tissue so he could use the restroom.
“I was nice to him,” she said. “Then he stole from us.”
The thief, who did no laundry, slipped out of the store with the money. Erwin discovered the larceny later, when she went to count the day’s take – and there was nothing.
“I panicked,” she said.
She found the empty money bag stashed in the restroom trash can.
This was not a robbery. No force was used. No weapon was shown. Nobody was hurt.
But maybe worse, the crime hurt Veronica Erwin’s heart.
“I love the people here,” said Erwin, who moved to Rock Hill from Long Island, N.Y., more than a decade ago, embracing her new home with a bear hug.
Customers at the laundry Wednesday spoke so highly of Erwin and her kindness, and then used words that cannot be printed in a newspaper to describe the thief.
Rock Hill police officers and crime scene investigators came to the laundry Tuesday afternoon and spent more than an hour with Erwin. They made a copy of surveillance video that clearly shows the man crawling on the floor and grabbing the money.
Detectives are working the case, said Capt. Mark Bollinger, spokesman for the Rock Hill Police Department.
Both Erwin and laundry owner Ted Williams said police were generous with their time and consoled the distraught Erwin. It was the first time in two decades anything had been stolen from his business, Williams said.
Williams, known around town for his generosity with such local charities as Christians Feed the Hungry, was thankful Erwin was not hurt. She is far more important than any bag of money, he said.
‘We’re here for you’
All the regular fans at the Winthrop Coliseum know Erwin by sight. She’s not just that woman in the stands with the prosthetic leg, she’s the one who will not stop cheering. She is so beloved that retired Army Col. Charlie Funderburke – something of an Eagles superfan himself – buys Erwin’s tickets for all of Winthrop’s home basketball games.
“Thankfully, Veronica is all right, she wasn’t hurt,” said Funderburke, who spent 43 years in the service. “To steal from this woman – her son is a soldier, a fine young man in uniform, and she is a treasure – is a rotten crime.”
On Tuesday night, just hours after Erwin’s heart was broken, the Winthrop men’s team played.
Erwin walked up the long hill to the concourse, then down the stairs to her seat. She clapped. She cheered. She tried not to cry, as she recalled being scared to death by a thief.
When Winthrop won, Erwin cheered and clapped and went home with at least one good memory about Tuesday.
The next morning, Erwin went back to her broom and her washers and dryers.
“I have to work,” she said.
But Wednesday’s shift did not end with tears.
Word of the crime made its way to players and coaches of Winthrop’s basketball teams. Into the laundry Wednesday afternoon strode women’s head coach Kevin Cook. At his side was men’s coach Pat Kelsey.
The coaches stormed in with purpose, as if they were making a beeline to a referee who had made a bad call.
They brought a card with season tickets in it. They brought Eagles jerseys.
But mostly, they brought love to their most loyal fan.
“We are here for you, just like you are for us,” said Cook.
“What happened to you is terrible,” Kesley said. “We just want you to know we care about you.”
The two coaches told this woman that she, the fan, mattered as much as anybody.
As Erwin hugged the men, she found herself about to cry – but stopped. Instead, she did something she hadn’t done in a whole day.
“First time I smiled since yesterday,” Erwin said.