Thieves Steal Holiday at Convalescent Home : Burglary: 75 wrapped gifts, intended for patients who had not received any from relatives, are stolen from parked car.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thieves driving a Jaguar smashed the window of a car outside a convalescent home Friday and stole 75 wrapped presents intended for elderly residents there, many of whom would receive no other.

Authorities said sometime between 10 and 10:45 a.m., the thieves broke into a Jeep Cherokee parked in the lot of Chapman-Harbor Skilled Nursing Center and stole gifts worth about $750.

The home's activities director, Tom DeLucia, 30, had left the gifts of slippers, blankets and clock radios in his car when he went inside. He meant to return to the car a few minutes later, but "I kept getting sidetracked," he said.

When he returned to the car half an hour later, everything but a small teddy bear and a green bow was gone.

"They took all of the gifts, the wrapping paper, the tape, everything," DeLucia said, including his favorite suit jacket and his briefcase.

DeLucia had shopped for the presents the night before. With a list of 75 residents who had not received any gifts from relatives, DeLucia stormed a nearby Target store looking for presents he thought they would like.

DeLucia said he bought a large box of Bit o' Honey candy bars for a woman who loves them, a hat for a man who loves hats and a few radios for blind patients. Then he and co-worker Deborah Gardner stayed up until 2:30 a.m. Friday wrapping the gifts.

Gardner said they used multicolor ribbons and bows, and perhaps made the presents too attractive to the thieves.

They had planned to give the gifts at a Christmas party Friday afternoon, but canceled it to deal with the theft.

"It's terrible," said Mary Jane Rodriguez, director of social services at the center. "This is the one time out of the year that all the residents, no matter what physical or mental state, appreciate."

When told of the burglary, many of the residents said they were not surprised "given the neighborhood," Edward J. Smidth, 86, said. "There is a lot of crime around here."

Sgt. Frank Hauptman said police "have located a witness who was able to provide some information about the suspects. There are leads that we are following."

A witness at the scene said that a man jumped from an apartment balcony near the convalescent home and got into the Jaguar after it was loaded with gifts.

DeLucia tried to look for silver lining to the long day. "Maybe this will bring in some relatives or friends of the residents who wouldn't come otherwise," he said.

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