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Gas theft, vehicle vandalism leaves nonprofit on alert

March 14, 2014 - 5:52am

Thieves used tools last week to puncture gas tank lines and drain fuel from two vehicles owned by Arc of Kona, a private nonprofit in Kealakekua that helps people with disabilities.

The damage is estimated to be at least $350 per vehicle and repairs are expected to take a couple of weeks, said Arc of Kona transportation assistant and supervisor Brad Charlevoix.

Not only did the thieves plunder petrol, they also used a client’s wheelchair to transport it through the parking lot to the locked entrance gate. That client’s backpack, which was filled with several items valued at $50, was stolen, too. Fortunately, the wheelchair was left by the gate and fuel spots could be cleaned up, said Arc of Kona operations director Maggie Lobo.

The theft occurred sometime in the evening of March 5 or early morning March 6 to the nonprofit’s silver 2009 Kia Sedona van and white 1999 Ford F150 pickup truck. The Hawaii Police Department is investigating the incident. Anyone with information about this case should call the department’s nonemergency line at 935-3311.

Lobo said Arc of Kona reported the incident to West Hawaii Today in an attempt to bring awareness about “this disgusting act,” which has left the nonprofit feeling violated. She also hopes to combat and catch the thief by putting neighbors on alert.

Arc of Kona President and CEO Gretchen Lawson called this act of vandalism and theft “rude, appalling and completely anti-social.” She said nonprofits already have a hard enough time in this economy and to have to deal with this extra expense is frustrating. She added, Arc of Kona purchased the used van about two weeks ago, which only makes these repairs more disheartening.

The incident has caused extra headaches for the nonprofit in the transportation of its clients, particularly the 26 in its day program. Fortunately, the nonprofit’s three other vans were not affected. Still because of the rerouting, some services, such as visiting parks or volunteering opportunities, have been disrupted or hampered, Lawson said.

Community access is important for participants because connections are built and strengthened through those excursions, relations with other organizations and causes, and visits with people in the community. Access to and choice in activities also helps clients create the lives they enjoy, Lawson said.

Founded 50 years ago, The Arc of Kona serves people with disabilities islandwide, helping them achieve the fullest possible independence and participation in society according to their wishes. Its work also impacts clients’ families, their advocates and community. Services offered include vocational and job training; classroom-based therapeutic skills building; job placement and retention; personal assistance; independent living in Ocean View; a group home in Captain Cook; and training and consultation for support teams.

Not wanting to take any chances, Arc of Kona is now parking vehicles off-site overnight. It is also looking for suggestions on how to improve security in the area.

This is the second time Arc of Kona has dealt with gas theft. Last October, someone broke the locking gas cap on the same truck and punched a hole in its gas tank to remove the fuel. The cost of that repair was approximately $700, Charlevoix said.

Donations toward the repairs or gas are welcomed. Those interested in contributing should call 323-2626.