Richmond girl’s missing wheelchair returned by local pastor

Richmond girl's wheelchair returned by local pastor in heartwarming tale.
Richmond police Sgt. Nicole Abetkov holds 4-year-old La'Rae after returning the girl's wheelchair.

An overwhelmed Richmond mother’s misfortune took a heartwarming turn over the weekend after her disabled daughter’s $8,000 wheelchair, which went missing last week, was returned to her Sunday.

But the story about the wheelchair’s journey includes an even happier ending.

The incident first came to light when the mother, Ashley Lewis, went to KRON4 with the story about how the wheelchair went missing, hoping someone would see the news report and return it to her.

Lewis is the mother of three young children, including 4-year-old La’Rae, who was born with Spina Bifida, a congenital spine disorder requiring her to use a wheelchair.

On Thursday about 4 p.m. near their apartment in the 4600 block of Potrero Avenue, Lewis accidentally forgot about the wheelchair while loading her children into her car, and left it on the curb.

Lewis has been preoccupied in recent days, as her family was forced to temporarily relocate from their apartment due to a hazardous materials leak.

“I was just so overwhelmed with so much going on that I drove off,” Lewis told KRON4. “And I made it halfway to my destination before I realized I left her wheelchair. I immediately turned around and came back but it was gone.”

Lewis reported the missing wheelchair to police and the news station. A witness told police that a Hispanic man in a white pickup truck hauling scrap metal picked up the wheelchair, according to Richmond police Sgt. Nicole Abetkov.

That man later saw the KRON4 story and brought the wheelchair to the Richmond Police Department, where his son flagged down Abetkov as she was leaving the parking lot. Abetkov then worked with KRON4 to contact Lewis and return the wheelchair.

But the story doesn’t end there.

It turns out the Hispanic man who mistook the wheelchair for scrap metal is the pastor of a Richmond church.


“He was on his way to pick his daughter from school, then picked up the wheelchair thinking it was scrap metal,” Abetkov said. “As the day went on it starts bothering him. He got the feeling the wheelchair wasn’t being thrown out and so decided against sending it to the scrap yard. That’s when he saw the story in the news.”

Not only did the pastor return the wheelchair, he said he now intends to seek help for Lewis’ family through his church.

“This might have been a blessing in disguise,” Abetkov said.

Abetkov, also a mother, said she choked up when returning the wheelchair to La’Rae.

“This little girl is the happiest little girl you will ever meet,” Abetkov said. “She’s so full of life.”

La’Rae hugged Abetkov tightly, a moment the police sergeant and veteran of the department said she will never forget.

“If nothing else happens in my career during the time I have left, that moment will satisfy me for the rest of my life,” Abetkov said.

Abetkov said anyone who wish to help out Lewis’ family via donations or by other means can call her at (510) 620-6851.