NYPD officers track down disabled teen’s stolen wheelchair, return it to her and charges alleged thief

Posted at 10:12 PM, Jan 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-02 22:12:58-05

JACKSON HEIGHTS, Queens  — There was a happy ending Wednesday to the story of a disabled teenager’s wheelchair stolen from right outside her home.

Members of the 115th Precinct brought the chair back, delivering it in an NYPD van to the family’s apartment at 77th Street and 37th Road.

Michelle Molina, 18, is nonverbal, and suffers from scoliosis as well as a rare neurological disorder called Rett syndrome. She is completely reliant on a $6,000 wheelchair customized to fit her needs.

Since the chair is too heavy to carry up and down the narrow stairs to her second floor apartment, Michelle’s specialized wheelchair is normally kept chained to a pipe outside the family home.

On Christmas night, a thief clipped the chain and swiped the wheelchair.

“I felt that it was something important to the community” said Deputy Inspector Carlos Ortiz, commanding officer of the 115th precinct. "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."

Molina's grateful mother shook officers' hands and thanked the NYPD.

After the wheelchair was stolen, Officers Bryan Leibold and Tyler Scala canvassed the area with, locating surveillance video that ultimately lead detectives to a suspect.

“We got a tip from a civilian that called the detective squad, we did a follow-up with that. There are many people involved - other detectives - and they went to the scene and we were able to identify the wheelchair as being the complainant’s,” said Detective Michael Fischer.

Police arrested a homeless woman in the area who is known to them. The suspect, 34-year-old Minera Martinez, has been charged with grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property.

The wheelchair is specifically designed for Molina's needs and she would be unable to attend school without it.

“We felt it was important. This is something she relies on on a daily basis. We wanted to get this done as quick as possible,” said Officer Scala.

This family’s plight touched so many in the city. After our story first aired on PIX11, the family received an outpouring of support. Now, there's a happy ending with help from the Jackson Heights community and New York’s Finest.

“It feels great;  it’s part of our job. Everything that we can do for the family, we want to get it done today,” said Officer Leibold.

Molina's mom says the family is now looking to move to a first floor apartment that will make it easier to get the wheelchair in and out of home.