2 05 2008

Disabled, dependent and victims of crimes

Gas thieves repeatedly prey on the vulnerable

By Columnist · The Herald



Some crimes are brutal. Others are stupid. Stealing gas from York County’s most vulnerable adults is just plain rotten.

Tuesday, for at least the third time in a little more than a month, the people who serve almost 200 of York County’s developmentally disabled adults reported to police that vehicle fuel lines were cut and gasoline was stolen. And worse, the fuel banditry follows November window-smashings of seven York County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs vehicles near the Rock Hill/York County Airport.

The thieves even took seven cell phones that night, plus a fire extinguisher and seven first-aid kits.

A van and minibus were the latest targets Tuesday morning at Horizon Industries, the arm of the disabilities board that handles job training, activities and education programs.

“Of all the people to target, the disabled,” said Krista Bradshaw, director of vocational supports for the disabilities board.

‘Countywide problem’

In mid-March, eight vehicles were damaged when gas was stolen. Rock Hill Police are investigating all of the incidents, but no arrests have been made, Lt. Jerry Waldrop said.

The area is near the city limits, and several businesses nearby have reported gas thefts in recent weeks, said Lt. Rusty Helms of the York County Sheriff’s Office. Two men were arrested for siphoning gas from vehicles nearby about a month ago, Helms said.

“It is becoming a countywide problem,” Helms said. “We’ve had diesel stolen from construction equipment in Fort Mill. It’s a rash of gas thefts.”

Rock Hill Police, however, have not seen a pattern of gas thefts, Waldrop said.

But if the rascals are just looking at the disabled, that is worse than gas that costs more than rent.

The disability board is a private nonprofit that contracts with the state to provide support for adults. It has a fleet of 12 vehicles at Horizon near the airport that were paid for by federal dollars — yours. County taxpayers — you — foot the bill for gasoline. The damage last month prompted the fleet to be parked off-site, but vehicles were returned for parking recently, Bradshaw said. That won’t happen anymore, she said.

The vandalism has disrupted client services and inconvenienced families. Some of the disabled were picked up late or not at all. The clients at Horizons typically live at home with family or guardians, then spend days at the center or working. Many work in lawn care, custodial or other jobs that require transportation. In-house activities have had to be rescheduled or canceled.

“Parents and guardians have to make other arrangements, lose work time, if we can’t be there to pick people up,” said Mary Poole, executive director of the board.

Horizon employees often have found out the lines are cut when what gas is left in a van runs out of the open line. That’s if the van starts on the way to pick up somebody who is needy, as the pacing family with bills piling up waits to go out to make a living. Then, hopefully, the employees get to a safe spot to call for help before running dry on the side of the road.

One employee Tuesday called what happened “despicable.”

Maybe “rotten” is too nice.

Andrew Dys • 329-4065 | adys@heraldonline.com 




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