Crime - Sacto 911

Sacramento police investigate theft of disabled-athlete wheelchairs, sporting equipment from Meadowview shed

Alan Tomiyama pretty much summed up the thoughts of many as he reflected Tuesday on the recent theft and vandalism of thousands of dollars’ worth of sporting equipment for disabled children and adults.

“How low can you go?” asked an incredulous Tomiyama, the city of Sacramento’s recreation manager. “They’ve gone to the lowest level.”

Disbelief and maybe even disgust hung in the air Tuesday afternoon as Tomiyama and other parks and recreation employees gathered at River Cats Independence Field in Meadowview to survey the damage.

Some time in recent weeks – possibly last weekend – thieves broke into a storage shed alongside the baseball diamond next to the Samuel Pannell Meadowview Community Center and stole or damaged equipment that city officials are valuing at up to $25,000.

Independence Field is specially designed to accommodate adaptive sports for people with physical and cognitive disabilities, and the shed was filled with equipment such as “beep baseball” bats for the blind and “quad rugby” wheelchairs for quadriplegic athletes.

Officials are still tallying the losses, but they already know that five of those quad rugby chairs – more than $2,800 each – were stolen, along with two specialized wheelchairs used for racing. They lost several weighted scuba diving vests that had been used by children and wounded veterans. Smaller items were taken, too, such as River Cats baseball hats donated by the minor league team. The thieves opened up boxes of balls and discarded the cardboard in a corner of the field.

What wasn’t taken was left in a complete disarray: wheelchairs piled on top of each other, curling sticks strewn about, donated T-shirts lying dirty on the ground.

“It made me sick,” said Jenny Yarrow, a program coordinator for Access Leisure, the city’s program for adaptive sports. “It honestly made me sick.”

Much of the equipment was acquired through grants and community donations, officials said. The loss is disheartening.

“Years it’s taken to acquire the materials and the programs,” said Philip Sinclair, another program coordinator for Access Leisure. “To have it thrown out like it wasn’t worth anything is just a real shame.”

Yarrow said she knows the shed was intact late Feb. 18. Sometime between that night and Monday morning, the thieves pried a vent off a shed door to gain access inside. Sacramento police responded Monday morning to begin their investigation after the break-in was discovered.

Police and city officials are asking for the public’s help in identifying those responsible. For them, Tomiyama has a message.

“If there’s any compassion, if there’s any heart in you, then return what you’ve stolen,” he said. “Because what you’ve done is absolutely despicable.”

Anyone with information is asked to call police at (916) 264-5471.