The thieves did more than snatch Vinny Pinello's $17,000 customized wheelchair. For several days, they robbed the Long Island man of his independence.
"I can't push myself," said Pinello, who has cerebral palsy. "If I need to be pushed around, I need to depend on other people; I don't want to do that."
Pinello, 27, has been free to go where and when he pleases with an assist from a motorized wheelchair since he was a youngster.
"I could do everything myself," he told Newsday Tuesday afternoon, describing how he now felt like a burden, relying on others. "I'm definitely suffering a lot."
Tuesday night, his torment ended. The stolen wheelchair was returned to the family after being found by a neighbor, Nassau police said.
Customizing another wheelchair to his exact measurements, a necessity, would have taken about six months, said his mother, Carmela Pinello. Since the theft Saturday, her son had been making do with a "broken down" manual wheelchair.
"It feels great; it feels excellent," she said after the wheelchair was returned. It was banged up, but otherwise in working condition. Carmela said one of the handlebars was broken and the chair can't be used until that's fixed -- something she hopes the manufacturer can expedite.
Police said one of the family's Ridge Drive neighbors spotted the wheelchair on the side of the road and when it wasn't claimed, figured something was wrong. He brought it into his garage for safekeeping and called police.
Two 14-year-old boys allegedly stole the chair, a Quantum 600 Power Base model, from the Pinellos' Flower Hill home at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday and took it for a ride -- even chatting about it afterward on Facebook, police said. The teens were arrested Monday and charged with burglary and grand larceny. They told police they rode the wheelchair "around the neighborhood until the battery died," then abandoned it on a street.
The identities of the teens, charged as juveniles, were not released because of their age. Both are scheduled to appear Monday in Family Court in Westbury.
"They wanted to go joyriding," Carmela said. "Meanwhile, they left a handicapped man without a wheelchair."
Carmela, who owns two restaurants in Park Slope, Brooklyn, said the family's home on Ridge Drive was being remodeled at the time of the theft and nobody was home.
Her son needs his special wheelchair for the United Cerebral Palsy educational work program he attends during the day, she said. The manual chair is far less stable. and can take two people to right it if it falls over with Vinny inside, Carmela said."If it's knocked down and somebody doesn't move him, he can't move," she said.
Mother and son are temporarily living in Queens while the renovations to the Long Island residence continue. "I'm putting in elevators for him, so he'll be able to have a good life," she said.
Vinny, whose cerebral palsy was caused by oxygen deprivation at birth, has major physical disabilities and relies heavily on his wheelchair, though he can move with a walker if someone can assist him if he falters,, his mother said.
Vinny, meanwhile, admits to being angered by the theft. "What were these people thinking? It's stupid to steal a wheelchair," he said.
With John Valenti