By Neil H. Dempsey
---- — SALEM — Patricia Champagne took the blue motorized wheelchair her daughter had given her on a drive to get groceries last Thursday, then parked it as usual in back of her apartment building on Federal Street.
Saturday it was gone.
“I’m, like, devastated,” Champagne said. “I don’t know how I’m going to go shopping now.”
Champagne, 53, was struck by a truck while riding her bicycle to the bank about four years ago, and she still needs to have part of her left knee replaced. Walking without help is difficult and painful, though she can manage short distances. Taking shopping trips without a wheelchair is out of the question.
The wheelchair is a $5,000 battery-powered Jay model that has a gray seat with a rip in it. Champagne said she usually leaves it beneath a porch at the rear of her building with a blue tarp covering it, because it’s far too heavy to get into her apartment.
“I’m on the second floor, and an electric wheelchair ... I mean, I couldn’t pick it up,” Champagne said. “It would take three strong people.”
Given the wheelchair’s weight, it appears likely that whoever stole it did so by driving it away. Champagne said the wheelchair still had a charge in it, though not much of one, which is why she went out to it on Saturday in the first place.
So far, police aren’t sure what happened. Detective Sgt. James Page said the department suspected the stolen chair might have been sold as scrap metal, but the local metal recycling business said it hadn’t received it.
“We have a rash of those things where people just go into people’s yards,” Page said.
Champagne moved to Salem in September. She said she finds the city interesting because of its history, and she had been hoping to take local tours when the weather warms up — but that all depends on whether she gets her wheelchair back.
“Maybe I can do that this summer,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
In the meantime, she is trying to figure out how to get groceries. She noted that replacing the machine would be prohibitively expensive, as she’s on a fixed income.
“Basically, I don’t have much to work with,” she said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Champagne speculated that whoever took the wheelchair might have done so for somebody “who was hurt,” or for somebody who somehow needed it more than she does.
“I hope somebody can use it more than I did,” she said, “but I don’t think that’s the case.”
Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.