By Bill Parry
A disabled teenager in Jackson Heights has her wheelchair back and the NYPD have arrested the 34-year-old homeless woman who allegedly stole it on Christmas night.
Minera Martinez allegedly stole 18-year-old Michelle Martinez Molina’s custom-designed wheelchair that was chained outside the family’s home on 77th Street near 37th Avenue, according to police.
Molina suffers from scoliosis and Rett Syndrome and is non-verbal. She needs the specially designed $5,000 wheelchair to go to school.
Neighborhood coordination officers from the 115th Precinct and NYPD detectives worked with Jackson Heights residents to find and return the wheelchair to Molina’s home Wednesday evening.
“She’s very happy,” Molina’s mother told reporters outside the family’s home. “I’m very happy they found the chair.”
The wheelchair was too cumbersome for the family to carry it to their second-floor apartment each night so they would leave it outside covered in plastic and chained to a fence. Molina’s mother discovered it missing with its chain cut on Christmas night and that’s when the 115th Precinct sprung into action.
“The fact that she needed to go back to school, it was one of those things where you really just stop everything and say, ‘we need everyone involved,’” Inspector Carlos Ortiz, commander of the 115th Precinct, said during a press briefing. “I felt it was something important to the community. It’s one of those things where wow, someone actually took a wheelchair from the side of the house, that we felt we needed to get on top of it.
On New Year’s Eve, detectives were tipped off by an eyewitness who saw a homeless woman with the wheelchair in Hart Playground 10 blocks away in Woodside. Police brought the mother Antonia to the park where she identified her daughter’s chair.
Police arrested Minera Martinez and charged her with grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, and criminal trespass, according to the NYPD.
Officers returned the wheelchair to the grateful family by van Wednesday evening.
“It feels great, it’s part of our job,” Police Officer Bryan Leibold said to reporters. “Everything that we can do for the family, we want to get it done today.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr