Some jerks stole a Navy veteran’s van and wheelchair, robbing him of his independence

Matt Saintsing
July 11, 2018 - 3:58 pm

Photo Courtesy of Alyssa Rolon

Categories: 

It was an especially rainy evening in Houston on July 5th. So much, in fact, that 67-year-old Eddy Rolon—a Navy veteran and amputee—rushed to get in his home. Since he was in such a hurry, he didn’t realize he left his van unlocked. 

When he couldn’t find his 2004 Ford Windstar, which had his electric wheelchair inside, where he left it the next morning, he realized what had happened. It was stolen. 

“I thought maybe it was a joke,” says Rolon. But when it settled in what had happened, he says he was devastated as both his van and electric wheelchair meant a world of independence. “I didn’t need anybody to help me,” he says. “I was able to go to places that way because most don’t have the battery operated shopping carts.”

Rolon bought the van in January and paid to fix it up with new air conditioning, switching out the rusted freeze plugs, and installing a backup camera so he could better maneuver it. And to make room for his wheelchair, he arranged to have one of the original backseats removed. 

It was in shipshape, and Rolon very much enjoyed his newly gained independence.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1970 and served for two years aboard the USS Yosemite, a now decommissioned destroyer tender. His enlistment was cut short because of an accident in the ship’s mess. While transporting heavy kitchen equipment, the ship took a roll, leaving Rolon with two broken arms. 

He never made a VA claim or sought any disability, since “there are people worse off than me,” says Rolon. 

Last year, he suffered a massive heart attack. To add insult to injury, he experienced a stroke while doctors were performing a quadruple bypass. “I had a bunch of emergency surgery on my legs and they pinched all the blood out of my arteries,” adds Rolon. His life was saved, but he acquired gangrene in the process.  To stop it from spreading, his doctors recommended amputation of his left leg above the knee. 

Photo Courtesy of Alyssa Rolon

Despite his injuries, he could go grocery shopping thanks to the van and wheelchair. Rolon recalls the first time he traveled to get a meal he was desperately crazing: Chinese food. “I wanted Chinese, so I went by myself and rolled by wheelchair inside,” he says. “I sat down, and had what I wanted, all on my own—that was a good feeling for me.” 

But now that his van and wheelchair are gone, his mobility is drastically limited. To get around, he pushes himself in an office chair, but can only go as far as his own driveway since it’s so unstable. 

To replace his van and wheelchair, his daughter Alyssa created a GoFundMe page. As of Wednesday afternoon, it has raised $1,800 in just four days, but still a long way from their $5,000 goal. 

“Who could honestly get in a handicap van, see a wheelchair in the back and handicap sticker, and still decide to steal it,” says Alyssa. “It just hurt me to see my father go through it.” 

Rolon filed a police report, but with each passing day, it becomes less likely his van and wheelchair will turn up. But more than anything, Alyssa adds, they’d like to see these thieves face justice. 

“They took away our sense of security,” she says. “And it’s just not right.” 

  Contact us about this article or share your story at [email protected].