Help Awaits Paraplegic, if He’ll Just Reappear

Times Staff Writers

George Donovan is out there, somewhere.

And he’s got a friend. Plus a lot of other people who say they want to help him get a new wheelchair.

That’s an improvement over Tuesday night, when it seemed there just wasn’t anybody in Los Angeles who felt like taking care of the 47-year-old paraplegic.

Police said they found Donovan--a homeless man who usually sleeps in an alley near the Greyhound bus station downtown--propped up against a wall at 6th and Main streets at about 6 p.m.


Donovan, who said he is a Vietnam veteran from Illinois, told the officers that two men had pretended to befriend him before dumping him from his motorized wheelchair and stealing his watch, his wallet and his last $6.

The thieves then dashed off with the chair, leaving Donovan lying helpless on the pavement.

Donovan said passers-by ignored him.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people I asked to call the police and they wouldn’t do nothing,” he said Tuesday night. “I guess they didn’t want to get involved.”


A Search for Help

The police officers who eventually found Donovan took him to the Central Division station, where they said they tried for three hours to find some agency that would put him up for the night.

“No one seemed willing to take him,” Sgt. Dale Bootrow said.

According to Bootrow, local missions said they were full, the Veterans Administration explained that it couldn’t take Donovan in because he wasn’t sick or injured and the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center said the same thing.

The county’s Department of Public Social Services couldn’t offer a room because Donovan, who said he was crippled in a construction accident several years ago in Kansas City, wasn’t ambulatory. The district attorney’s Victims Emergency Response Team said it couldn’t help because he wasn’t hurt, Bootrow said. And detoxification centers--which were called even though Donovan wasn’t drunk--said they they had run out of beds.

“For a while there, the only solution I could see was to take him over to Pershing Square and leave him on a bench,” Bootrow said. “But then, what’s going to happen when daylight comes? What’s he going to do then?”

Skid Row Quarters

Finally, the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row agreed to take Donovan in and gave him a crutch. About half an hour later, however, Donovan complained of abdominal pains, so an ambulance was called and he was transferred to County-USC Medical Center.


Donovan was checked and found to be in good health, officials said. About 2 a.m. Wednesday, they said, someone stopped by the hospital, chatted with Donovan and agreed to take him where he wanted to go--to a Veterans Administration hospital.

VA officials said that Donovan still hadn’t checked into any of their facilities as of Wednesday afternoon. “We can’t find him anywhere,” said Larry Caird, a VA spokesman.

Caird also said the VA had no record of his having ever applied for veteran’s benefits. The hometown he listed on his VA identification card--Anderson, Ill.--is actually a “township,” or district, in Clark County, and not a city as such. John Presz, the chief of police of Marshall--the only town in Anderson township--said that he had checked around and found no one there who remembered a George Donovan.

Offers of Help

The only clue to Donovan’s whereabouts Wednesday afternoon was his checkout entry at the medical center. That said he had left at 2:10 a.m. with “a friend.” By noon Wednesday, offers of help were beginning to pour in in response to news reports of the incident.

Ray McCann, manager of communications at the Union Rescue Mission, said there had been “response across the nation,” with offers to replace the wheelchair “and folks calling in who want to help out financially.” Officer Ron Baer, who was working the front desk Wednesday at the Police Department’s Central Station, said he handled a call from a manufacturer of motorized wheelchairs who offered one free.

The only problem was, nobody seemed to know where to find George Donovan and his friend.