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Ball Fan’s Long Night : Theft of Wheelchair Mars Dodger Rooter’s Trip to Stadium

Times Staff Writer

Gordon Page is feeling Dodger blue.

The 36-year-old paraplegic was confined to his Woodland Hills apartment Sunday, just thankful to be home after his first-ever trip to Dodger Stadium.

Page had a set of Los Angeles Dodgers pins, a Dodgers backpack and Dodgers baseball cards as game souvenirs--all compliments of the new National League West Champions.

But the team could not give him what he wanted most: a way to get around.

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While Page sat in the stands Friday night watching the Dodgers and Giants steal bases, someone in the stadium was stealing his $2,000 custom wheelchair.

Trouble Just Starting

And that’s when his extra-inning problems began.

Page did not make it home until 3 a.m. Saturday, after waiting hours at the stadium as the Dodgers looked for his wheelchair and tried to find him another one.

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Although the Dodgers expressed sympathy for the man’s plight--and promised to pay for a suitable replacement--Page must wait until today to order a new wheelchair. But he does not know how soon that will arrive.

“The reality is, I’m stranded at home, isolated in bed,” said Page. “I can go 10 or 20 feet to the bathroom but that’s about it.”

“We had no idea someone would steal a wheelchair,” said Bob Smith, the Dodgers’ director of operations. “We feel as bad about it as anybody.”

Page, who suffered a broken back in 1976 when he fell out of a palm tree while retrieving an arrow, said it all began last Tuesday after he made a date with a female friend to attend his first game. He called Dodger Stadium to make sure he could be seated.

“Before I got there, they said they’d seat me and I wouldn’t have to bring extra chairs,” he recalled.

But instead of sitting in the area designated for the handicapped--the second level on the third base side--Page and his date went to regular seats in the loge section along first base. He was helped into a seat and placed his wheelchair behind him along an aisle used as an exit corridor.

“Then up comes this usher trying to take my wheelchair from me,” Page recalled. “I didn’t want to do this but he was a big guy and he said he was going to lock it up. And he left with it. He said that if I wanted out to go to the bathroom, I’d have to ask him.”

“He was trying to leave it behind the seat,” Smith explained. “That’s an exit area. We can’t leave anything in a corridor that is considered an exit space. So the usher put it about 20 feet away, in a corner, out of the way.”

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When the game ended, Page said “the usher was nowhere to be found.” As he looked frantically for the usher, the stadium emptied and security personnel walked up and ordered him to leave.

As he tried to explain his situation, Page spotted the usher and began waving and yelling: “My wheelchair! My wheelchair!”

Not to Be Found

When he arrived, Page said, the usher told him, “ ‘Oh, just a minute, I’ll go get it.’ Then he came back and said ‘I don’t know what happened to your wheelchair.’ ”

“The wheelchair was not watched throughout the game and it was taken,” said security supervisor John Perretta. “I was upset about that. What does somebody get out of stealing a man’s wheelchair? “

The Dodgers called an ambulance but the crew brought a wheelchair without foot rests.

“The ambulance crew brought a wheelchair up and said, ‘Get in it,’ ” Page said. “I casually explained, ‘Well, I’m a paraplegic with a broken back and wearing a brace around my torso. This other chair in no way is like my chair. It has no foot rests.’ If my legs aren’t propped up right, they swell up.”

Another 20 minutes went by before they found another wheelchair, but it also was inadequate. It weighed about 60 pounds, was too wide for Page to handle, had a back nearly up to his shoulders and no cushion. His own custom wheelchair, he said, weighed 21 pounds, had a 10-inch-high back, was 15 inches wide and had a special $400 cushion he required.

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“He needs a special wheelchair,” Perretta said. “He’s dead in the water until he gets that special wheelchair. He can’t even lift that (rental) one in the car because it’s so heavy.”

Telephone Search

Perretta stayed with Page at the stadium until 2 a.m. Saturday, telephoning around the city to 24-hour medical equipment rental firms until he found one willing to bring a wheelchair to the ballpark. The Dodgers picked up the $203 tab.

Perretta then accompanied the paraplegic to his car, put the rental wheelchair inside, shook hands and waved goodby. He thought that was the end of the story, but Page had more problems.

While waiting at the Dodgers’ office, Page talked by phone to a Los Angeles police lieutenant, who heard his story and told him to be at the West Valley police station by 1:15 a.m. and he would have two officers waiting there to take him home.

But the wheelchair had not arrived at the stadium until nearly 2 a.m. and, after dropping off his date, Page did not make it to the West Valley station until an hour later. No one was in the parking lot at that hour and Page was unable to get out of his car and go inside.

After wondering if the night would ever end, Page saw a police car pulling out and began blinking his lights on and off and flashing his high beams.

Help Getting Home

As the dubious officers listened, Page recounted his story. Finally, the officers agreed to follow his car and help him into his second-floor apartment.

There he remained over the weekend, unable to push the heavy, rental wheelchair very far, a virtual prisoner.

Page said he would have to miss a computer drafting class that he attends each weekday until a new wheelchair is found.

But he will not stop rooting for the Dodgers, who meet the New York Mets in the National League playoffs that begin Tuesday.

“I want to see the Dodgers win the pennant,” Page said.

He’ll just have to stay home and cheer them on.


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