ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) - It was shaping up to be a pretty good Christmas. Priscilla Bejaran of Allentown had the week off, and planned to get a lot of errands done. But on Dec. 20, a Tuesday, she told her 10-year-old daughter, April, to get her two little brothers into the car, and April came back in the house and said the car wasn’t there.
Priscilla’s first guess was that her husband, Kristian Jaquez, had taken it, but she called him and he said he had gone to work in his own car.
She didn’t need a second guess. The car had been stolen overnight from the family’s South Fifth Street home.
It wasn’t a fancy car, by any means - a 1997 Honda Civic. It had 81,000 miles on it when she bought it from a neighbor last year. But Civics are reliable and sturdy and Priscilla was delighted to have it. She drove it to her job at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest and shuttled the children around.
“I had saved up awhile,” she said. “I thought ‘Finally, I can get this car and we’ll have a second vehicle to get around.’”
“It was something just for her,” Kristian said. “When it got stolen, she felt like part of her was missing.”
The car wasn’t missing for long. That same morning, a North Catasauqua police officer named Christopher Wolfer came across the car on Front Street in the borough.
“The doors were missing,” Wolfer said. “All the bolts were on the ground. Inside the radio was hacked out.”
Wolfer had the car towed to the impound lot. A short time later, Priscilla and Kristian showed up at the police station, alerted by Allentown police that the car had been recovered.
Wolfer was a bit irritated, because he hadn’t even started the paperwork and now he had to tell this couple that their car was essentially a wreck.
But the irritation faded right away.
“I could just tell Priscilla was a pleasant, good person,” he said.
When he showed them a picture of the car, Priscilla broke down crying, explaining how hard she had worked to buy it and how much she depended on it.
Everyone in the station house grew quiet, imagining what it must be like for a working couple with three children - the youngest of whom is autistic - to be victimized at Christmas that way.
“I was talking to the chief afterward,” Wolfer said. “I said ‘They seemed like good people. I’m going to make some calls and see if I can get some doors for it.’”
That might not have been too troublesome or costly. But Wolfer, who was a mechanic before he was a cop, popped the hood and looked in dismay at the engine. It had been damaged, too.
He made a few calls to mechanics and concluded it would cost nearly $800 to fix the car, which was far beyond his means even if friends and co-workers chipped in. So he set up a campaign on GoFundMe, the charitable website, with a goal of $747.
“There was no activity on it for an hour,” Wolfer said. “I forgot about it and the next time I looked at it, there was $600 donated and hundreds of shares.”
What made this especially touching was that Wolfer recognized the names of some of the donors. They were, he knew, the kind of people who could least afford to part with their money, but here they were pledging $25, $50, $100 to help two strangers.
“Sorry someone was so mean,” wrote a woman who gave $10. “Hope this helps.”
In the end, the donations totaled $1,225. A Catasauqua mechanic, Justin Bowersox of Street Legal Automotive, donated labor. A&S Installations, an Allentown company, donated an alarm system. Wolfer took the leftover money to Wal-Mart two nights before Christmas and bought toys for the children.
He had disclosed none of this to Priscilla and Kristian, of course. The plan was to give them a Christmas Eve they would always remember.
Priscilla and Kristian, meanwhile, spent the week wondering when they would get the car back so they could figure out what to do with it. Priscilla would call Wolfer periodically and he would gently put her off.
“He would tell me ‘Oh, they have to fingerprint it,’ or one little thing or another,” she said.
“I’m not a good liar,” Wolfer confessed.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, Wolfer told the couple to come to the station. When they arrived, he led them out the door and they beheld the car, good as new and, in a sense, even better than that.
It took a few moments to realize what had happened - that strangers had entered their lives and restored what other strangers had taken away.
“My car!” Priscilla exclaimed.
She cried, and so did her husband.
“Officer Wolfer is a blessing,” Kristian said. “So many people have such a bad conception of police officers. But he’s an amazing individual.”
Information from: The Morning Call, https://www.mcall.com
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