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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fredrick Brennan: A Theft Victim's Ordeal

     Fredrick Brennan, a 19-year-old with a disability called osteogenesis imperfecta commonly known as brittle bone disease, while confined to a motorized wheelchair that operates by a joystick, lives on his own in an apartment in Brooklyn, New York. He makes his living working at home creating code for new websites.

     Late in 2013, an acquaintance withdrew money from Brennan's account by using, without authorization, his debit card.

      Brennan, before traveling to Atlantic City, New Jersey to visit his mother on December 1, 2013, pulled $4,850 out of his account before the possibility of a second unauthorized withdrawal. When he boarded the bus for Atlantic City, the cash was in his wallet packed inside his luggage.

     On January 1, 2014, at the conclusion of his New Jersey visit, Brennan headed home to Brooklyn. Upon arrival at the Port Authority transportation complex in mid-town Manhattan, Mr. Brennan wheeled himself toward a MetroCard machine. It was there he encountered a homeless man who offered to help him find his way through the massive Port Authority building. The man immediately followed-up the offer by asking Brennan for a dollar. When Brennan removed a dollar bill from his wallet, the man said, "Come on, I can't even buy a hotdog with this." Brennan handed the panhandler another buck. The man took the money and walked off.

     With his cash-filled wallet sitting on his lap, Brennan started the process of buying a MetroCard. The homeless guy, having returned to the scene, grabbed Brennan's wallet and fled. "He took my wallet," the victim screamed.

     A bystander who heard Brennan, ran after the thief who bolted up the stairs that led to Eighth Avenue. A short time later the good samaritan, accompanied by a police officer, returned to the victim. The thief had escaped into the hubbub of Eighth Avenue. The police officer, however, had retrieved Brennan's wallet. The cash was gone.

     Although Brennan's description of the thief was vague, the crime had been caught on a Port Authority surveillance camera. The next day, January 2, a New York City detective called Mr. Brennan with the news that officers had made an arrest in the case. Could the victim come back to Manhattan and pick the suspect out of a line-up at the police station?

     On January 2 Brennan traveled by bus and subway to the police station in Greenwich Village. The fact the city was expecting a massive show storm that day caused Brennan to worry about how he would get back to his home in Brooklyn.

     At the police station, Brennan had no trouble identifying the man who had stolen his wallet. The man he picked out of the line-up was Chris Sanchez. The 49-year-old suspect had been arrested near the Port Authority earlier that morning with $4,073 in his pocket. Police also found, on his person, small quantities of crack and marijuana.

    A Manhattan assistant prosecutor charged Chris Sanchez with grand larceny. Until the matter was resolved in the slow-moving criminal justice system, the authorities would have to hold onto the victim's stolen cash.

     Following the line-up identification, Brennan was asked to spend some time at the station filling out police forms and writing up a statement of the crime. By the time he left the police building it was late in the evening and snowing heavily. Worried that his wheelchair--he had been saving up for a new one--would short out in the snow, the cooperating crime victim asked a police officer if he could arrange for a ride back to Brooklyn. The officer said the station didn't have access to a van with a wheelchair lift. The theft victim would have to find his own way home.

      A detective pushed Brennan through the snow to the Union Square subway station, then left. It was eleven o'clock at night and snowing hard.

      Frederick Brennan boarded a subway train en route to the Atlantic Avenue Station where he got on another train that took him to 86th Street and Bay Parkway in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. There he waited for the bus that would take him on the final leg of his trip home. Problem was, the bus didn't come and the snow kept falling.

     After waiting at the bus stop for more than an hour, Brennan's hands and feet were starting to numb. Since his wheelchair couldn't plow through the snow, he used his cellphone to call 911 for help. A short time later an ambulance pulled up and carried him to a nearby medical center. The next day the hospital discharged him.

     A few days after Mr. Brennan's ordeal, he returned to Manhattan to testified before the grand jury considering the case. Based on the surveillance video and the victim's testimony, Mr. Sanchez was indicted on the charge of grand larceny. If the matter involves a trial, that will require his testimony as well. In the meantime, the theft victim will have to live without his money until the case is closed.

(This blog is based primarily on an article published in The New York Times by Michael Wilson.) 

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