News 12 at 11 o'clock / Monday, Oct. 29, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Taking care of a loved one with a disability is a challenge all in itself, but one Augusta family is faced with a whole new set of challenges now that someone stole their son's handicap accessible van with his wheelchair inside.
"If you see a van with a handicap decal in the window and a wheelchair, you know someone in that building is handicapped and needs it," said Stephanie Darby.
But that didn't seem to matter to the thief who stole the van she uses to transport her disabled son, DJ.
"I'm hurt that someone could just take something like that," she said.
Thieves stole her 1998 model beige Plymouth Voyager, tag number PCW7560. The thieves also got away with her son's wheelchair.
"It was custom built at Shriner's for him. It was in the van and that's gone also," she said.
And her family isn't alone. We've gotten several calls the past few months from News 12 viewers needing help looking for their stolen van.
You may remember James Ivery, a disabled veteran whose van was stolen back in July.
It's becoming a trend, one that Darby can't understand.
"Disabled people, they're already having difficulty, so why make it harder?" she asked.
But investigators say all thieves are concerned about are dollar signs, and they can get big bucks for selling the vans to junkyards.
"You get more money for the heavier the vehicle, so vans, trucks, tractor equipment, all these items are constantly being stolen and sold to recycling centers," said Investigator Kendall Brown with the CSRA Metal Task Force.
And with extra lift kits and heavy wheelchair ramps, a handicap tag on a car usually means a much heavier vehicle.
Brown says they've been swamped with reports of stolen cars at scrap yards since July.
"We average about 2 to 5 recovered stolen vehicles at recycling centers a week," he said.
He says new laws went into effect in July, making it harder for thieves to sell copper wire. Now, Brown says they're looking for other metals to sell, like steel from cars.
"We're getting vehicles stolen off the side of the road, people's cars break down and the time they get back to fix it, it's already gone and it gets recovered at a recycling center," he said.
But Darby is just hoping her van, stolen a dozen days ago, hasn't been sold for scrap yet.