Thieves steal disabled military veteran's handcycle

RENTON, Wash. -- A Renton man who has dedicated his life to helping others now needs his own help.

Ernie Butler is confined to a wheelchair, but he rides what's called a handcycle to raise money for charity. Someone stole that cycle recently, and now Butler is on a mission to get it back.

Butler is a veteran, serving as an Air Force pararescueman, which is an elite group among the military's special forces.

Butler and his fellow pararescuemen were trained to rescue downed pilots behind enemy lines, and during his career he is credited with saving countless lives.

For years, he's headed a non-profit organization that helps fellow veterans. His story of giving started 18-years ago with a skydiving accident.

"Somebody ran into the front leading edge of my canopy, got entangled in it and I went into a high speed, high 'G' turn," Butler said of his accident. "I kind of ran into the planet going way too fast."

Butler hit the ground hard, and the impact crushed his spinal chord and left him with a host of broken bones.

"I had about 200 different fractures," he said.

But, as fate would have it, Butler's accident and the months of painful rehab he endured also led him to handcycling.

"I had a 5-year-old daughter at the time and I thought it would be fun to get a bike and learn how to ride it," he said.

Over the years, Butler has raised thousands of dollars for several charities using the handcycle. He had no plans of slowing down, either, until he returned to his house several weeks ago and noticed his garage door was unlocked and his handcycle was missing.

Butler counts on the cycle to raise money, and he's not sure what he'll do without it.

"It was an important part of my life," he said. "I'd kind of like to get it back."

One of the charities Butler helps every year organizes handcycle rides for paralyzed children. He's hoping his own cycle turns up soon so he can get back to work. It is uniquely fitted to his body, so it is of little use to anyone else.

Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call the Renton Police Department.