Columbia County man arrested after vehicle stolen from STRIDE

May 15, 2018 06:50 PM

CHATHAM -- Steve Pechacek is an army veteran and STRIDE sled hockey athlete.

"Spending time at the camp with the other veterans and being able to talk with each other and have that camaraderie is very important to us," he said.

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He couldn't believe it when the gator was stolen from the STRIDE camp lodge on Route 203 in Chatham.  

The vehicle is used to help children and veterans with limited mobility.

Pechacek put the crime on Facebook, and it was shared by thousands of people.  Tips came in to investigators.

They arrested 21-year-old Matthew Vasquez, and say they found the stolen gator at his home in Stuyvesant.

"Some of them can't get around there without that piece of machinery," said Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett.  "And I'm glad that we were able to recover it.  I know that Hudson River Tractor was going to donate them one.  And I actually was going to donate ours up there until we could get something in place for them."

Pechacek is now putting in a security system that he says was donated by Chatham Hardware.

He still can't believe anyone would steal from children with disabilities and injured veterans.

"I don't even have a word for it, to be honest with you.  I'm just so upset about it," he said.  "But I'm just really glad that these guys got it back and the investigative team here and Sheriff Bartlett-- they're wonderful."

"We're very grateful for Columbia County and all the friends that came out to try and find the person that did this and to help STRIDE get our equipment back," said STRIDE Adaptive Sports CEO Mary Ellen Whitney.  "That's the most important thing."

The gator, which is the only one at the camp, will need some work, but it will still be usable.

Vasquez is charged with burglary and grand larceny.  

He was taken after arraignment to the Columbia County Jail in lieu of $500 cash bail or $1,000 bail bond.  

"It's the community working with the police is what made this happen," said Sheriff Bartlett.  "If it wasn't for the community coming forward and saying we think the gator is in this location, we might not have found it.  And I want to thank the community, as always, for helping us."


Kumi Tucker

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