Flower Hill man gets his wheelchair back

Vincent Pinello receives his wheelchair, which had been stolen and damaged in June, after it was speedily repaired by the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau County with donated parts from Pride Mobility. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (July 17, 2013)

A Flower Hill man Wednesday got back what thieves stole from him last month when they took his motorized wheelchair: his freedom.

The smile fixed on Vinny Pinello's face as he zipped about in his refurbished chair let everyone at United Cerebral Palsy Association of Nassau in Roosevelt know how he felt.

"I like the drive," said Pinello, 27, who needs his customized chair to take part in an educational work program at UCPN.

On the night of June 8, two 14-year-old boys stole the $17,000 chair, a Quantum 600 Power Base model, from the Pinellos' home and took it for a joy ride, police said. The teens told authorities they rode the wheelchair around the neighborhood until the battery died, then abandoned it on the side of a road, where one of the Pinellos' Ridge Drive neighbors spotted it and brought it into his garage until police retrieved it.

The teens were arrested June 10 and charged as juveniles with burglary and grand larceny. Their names were not released. Both are scheduled to appear before Nassau Family Court Judge Conrad D. Singer in Westbury Friday.

Pinello, whose cerebral palsy was caused by oxygen deprivation at birth, has physical disabilities and relies on his wheelchair.

For more than a month as Pinello waited for his wheelchair to be repaired, he had to use a manual chair, which his mother, Carmela Pinello, 53, said is far less stable. As she helped her son, who she said weighs about 135 pounds, in and out of the chair, she feared it might tip over and he might fall.

"Since he outgrew it, it's very dangerous," she said.

Two people were needed to help Pinello get on and off the bus. When he wanted to move about, Pinello said, he couldn't and had to depend on others.

"It feels great to see him get his independence back," Carmela Pinello said.

It would've taken about six months to customize another wheelchair to Pinello's exact measurements, a necessity, his mother said. But thanks to a couple of good Samaritans, the chair was fixed in about six weeks.

Parts -- including armrests, handgrips, batteries and seat cushions -- were donated by Pride Mobility, a company based in Pennsylvania. Using the donated parts, James Holman and Eric Vicino, two specialists from Rehab Solutions Inc. of Roosevelt, made the repairs. The chair was as good as new, she said.

Pinello said he wanted the accused thieves to know that what they did was "hurtful."

"If you are watching this," he said as cameras rolled, "I want you to think about what you did."

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