By Neil H. Dempsey
---- — SALEM — Although it remains a mystery exactly what happened, Patricia Champagne has been reunited with the motorized wheelchair somebody stole from in back of her residence last week.
“I’m very grateful,” Champagne said yesterday, shortly after police showed up and returned the $5,000 piece of equipment to her. “They really went out of their way to look for it.”
Police say a 20-year-old man found the wheelchair hidden in some bushes on Grove Street near Goodhue Street on Sunday afternoon and then pushed it up to his house on Beaver Street.
“He knew that someone was probably in need of it,” said Detective Brian St. Pierre. “The next day, mom saw it in the paper and contacted me.”
Champagne was hit by a truck four years ago and needs a partial knee replacement. She cannot walk on her own without considerable pain. Her daughter gave her the wheelchair last summer, and she depends on it for trips to the grocery store.
The battery-operated wheelchair was undamaged when found, but the charge was dead, apparently bolstering the theory that it was driven away from its outdoor storage spot underneath a porch at Champagne’s apartment building on Federal Street.
“I’m thinking some kids took it, and maybe the battery died,” St. Pierre said.
St. Pierre said he would continue to investigate and would like to speak to whoever was responsible. The police department is also working with Champagne to make sure the wheelchair doesn’t end up stolen again, perhaps by securing it with a chain. In the meantime, it is being stored on a neighbor’s porch.
Pierre said Champagne was “really happy” to get it back.
“Her knees were bothering her just going outside to get it,” he said.
Champagne’s story, featured on the front page of yesterday’s Salem News, was picked up by television crews yesterday. She had just finished an interview with a TV news crew when she spoke with the News again. All of the attention had taken her by surprise, she said.
“I’m not used to being on the front page of any paper,” Champagne said. “My granddaughter’s going, ‘My grandmother is a celebrity!’ She wanted to bring me to show and tell.”
Champagne said she had received many offers of help, and The Salem News received numerous inquiries from people offering her everything from donations to help getting to the grocery store. A member of the Masons contacted the paper to say they have several donated wheelchairs available and hoped to connect with her to help out.
Neil H. Dempsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.