The thief who allegedly stole a double amputee's wheelchair accessible van in Shawnee apparently had quite a joyride for the past week, racking up several thousand miles on the van and leaving personal items inside.
Thanks to an alert citizen who spotted the parked van late Sunday night, the 2000 Dodge Caravan stolen from Ron Fritch of Shawnee was recovered in the area of Highland and Kickapoo Streets.
His wife, Linda Fritch, said they had to have the vehicle towed until they could get new keys made Monday. She said they aren't sure if the van was parked there on purpose or if whoever was driving it was nearby, but either way, the thieves left a lot of items inside the van and didn't leave it in as good of shape as it was before it was stolen.
“They put close to 3,000 miles on it,” Linda said Monday, and the check engine light also was on. She said the radiator was discovered to be out of fluid.
“We're hoping and praying the engine is OK,” she said Monday, adding they've already taken the van to a mechanic to be checked.
The van also was a bit messy inside, she said, but personal things that don't belong to them — such as a box of toys, shoes, kids swim floaties and other items were left inside the van.
The couple's prayers to have the van return were answered, but Linda said they're hopeful the van can be returned to good working order.
And while she she's hopeful the person who took the van may have had some kind of conscience about what they did, Linda said, “all we can do is pray for them.”
The search for the suspect is ongoing, but Linda said police did collect fingerprint evidence from that van.
After a thief stole his the van on July 30, Ron was homebound, but he prayed the stolen van would be found and still in good shape.
The generosity of others helped the couple purchase the 2000-model gold van back in 2016 after both of Ron's legs were amputated following an illness.
At that time, his power chair wouldn't fit into her small car so the couple, who spent more than 17 years as missionaries doing fulfilling work in South Africa, prayed something would work itself out, she said.
“We made up our minds he was not going to be bedfast,” Linda said, adding they wanted to keep Ron living an active life where he could stay connected to people.
She said “the Lord impressed” on many churches in the Oklahoma City area to help through a GoFundMe account back in 2016. Two weeks later, $6,000 was raised to purchase the used van that has helped him live a much fuller life for the past two years.
It was little trips, but the built-in ramp on the van works perfectly for him to roll his power chair inside, strap in and go without having to transfer seats.
Linda said they're thankful for t hose that have been there for them and offered assistance and hope they can get the van back on the road soon. She said Ron is ready to get out of the house.
The couple retired from their missionary travels in 2007 and moved to Shawnee to be near children living here. Linda also was born and raised in Shawnee.