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Double amputee in wheelchair latest victim of juvenile car thieves

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MOLINE - A double amputee in a wheelchair is the latest victim of juvenile car thieves who police say are stealing vehicles in the Quad Cities at a rate of two-per-day.

"To take their van,that's just heartless," said Tracy Berhenke, the daughter of the man whose custom handicapped van was stolen outside the family home in Moline on Wednesday morning.

Ken Carlson, a retired John Deere worker, was being helped into his wheelchair for his dialysis appointment in his living room. His daughter says the van was outside and running, when someone jumped in and took off.

"It happened within two minutes. I'm very angry with the kids. And my dad told me last night, 'I'm not angry they stole one of my vehicles. I'm angry they took my freedom away', because he now cannot leave the house, " Berhenke said.

Police say the suspects had broken into a nearby garage near the YMCA a few minutes earlier. They believe they are part of the same ring of teens who have stolen close to 800 vehicles in one year in the Quad Cities. Some of the thieves have been as young as 12 and 13.

The van was seen being driven recklessly in Davenport Wednesday afternoon, and several police agencies followed it, but stopped after the driver started speeding to try and get away.

"It's hard for me to understand that the four different police departments were able to follow these kids, a large portion of yesterday driving around in our vehicle, and not catch them. As long as they're not doing any robberies, they can drive the vehicle around all day long and police just have to watch them.These kids are allowed to drive it and ditch it," said Berhenke.

Quad City police are urging people to lock up their cars and not leave them running unattended. They are not pursuing stolen vehicles because there is an area-wide no-chase policy in place for the safety of the public. Also, in the cases where the juveniles have been caught, police say, most have been released.

But one veteran Quad City policeman, who is close to retirement, says he thinks the strategy should be re-considered.

"Something's gotta break before someone dies, someone's going to have to step up and make a command decision. It's almost like a perfect storm with our chase policies and the lack of consequences for juveniles. This is kind of how it's manifested itself and it needs to be dealt with or you're going to be interviewing a family that's lost someone, " said Det. Scott Williams of the Moline Police Department.

"I've never seen anything like it in 30 years. It's taken on a life of its own, " Williams added.

On Thursday afternoon, police recovered the abandoned van in Rock Island. Early indications are it was not wrecked, and the family will likely get it back on Friday. A relief for the family, which had to hire a service to transport Mr. Carlson to his dialysis appointment Thursday.

His daughter hopes someone is caught. And, held responsible.

"These kids are putting everyone's lives in danger when they go out and drive recklessly. I don't want these kids to get a slap on the hand. I want these kids to do some serious community service if they're taking from a disabled person. The courts are just slapping them on the hand and letting them go," she said.