MODESTO — A man was arrested early Thursday and charged with stealing special tricycles used by Sherwood Elementary School students with severe disabilities.
A tip led police to James Vanbuskirk, 34, of Modesto, who was arrested at 2 a.m. He was charged with grand theft and violating his probation after admitting to the theft, said Modesto police spokeswoman Heather Graves.
Police recovered three of the 11 stolen trikes, and another was returned anonymously Tuesday night after news reports spread the story nationwide, said Darlene Pierson. She teaches the special education class that uses the large trikes modified with special safety features and frame supports.
“We understand they were turning them into low-rider bikes. The brakes are off. The baskets – all that’s gone,” she said of the returned bikes. One adult-size tricycle, outfitted with special padding and straps, was stripped of many of the expensive extras that hold up children unable to sit upright by themselves.
Pierson said the bikes give her nine third- through fifth-graders a way to exercise, working on muscle tone, hand-eye coordination and balance.
“Once they learn to ride these bikes, they get so excited, their parents buy them bikes at home and they get out in the neighborhood, so it’s socialization, too,” she said.
“If you could see how they interact (during P.E.)” Pierson said. The students spend their adaptive physical education class riding out by the school basketball courts.
The 11 stolen bikes were worth about $8,500, much of which Pierson and her husband pitched in themselves. Since a Bee story ran telling of the theft, media coverage has spread nationwide. Pierson said family members in Oklahoma saw her on the news.
“I was just hoping somebody would see it in The Bee and turn (the culprits) in,” she said with a smile.
Donations have poured in since the word got out. The school received three new tricycles and one nearly new one. As of Thursday, the office had received $8,450 in monetary donations, with an estimated $3,000 more pledged, said Sherwood office manager Kelly Gilbertson.
Pierson said anything left after restoring the 11 trikes for her class will go to buying the special bikes for other students with severe disabilities in the Sylvan school district, a younger class at Sherwood and an older class at Somerset Middle School.
“I’m really pleased. I just can’t believe how good they’ve been to us,” she said.