Seated in his wheelchair, Ray Miller leaned over his lunch, waved a crooked finger and decided out loud that he doesn’t believe much in people anymore.
“The American people are something else,” Miller said Monday from the cafeteria at his downtown Spokane apartment building. “When you’re down, they come at you like vultures.”
The 82-year-old was robbed Saturday afternoon as he rolled off the elevator at the Delaney Apartments, 242 W. Riverside. A teenager swiped Miller’s checkbook from his front shirt pocket, thanked him and wished him a good day. Then the thief raced down a nearby stairwell to meet two friends waiting in the lobby.
Miller - a stubborn man who would stand over 6 feet tall if the amputation of one leg years ago didn’t confine him to a wheelchair - said he wasn’t frightened by the robbery. He even tried to block the teenager’s path with his wheelchair and then yelled loudly for manager Bill Wright, who lives on the same floor.
“I heard a bunch of screaming and hollering but I was just getting out of the shower,” Wright said.
“You probably could have caught him,” Miller said, with a hint of a disappointment.
“I couldn’t have gone after him in my birthday suit,’ Ray,” the apartment manager said.
Miller shrugged. Being a victim is nothing new to the retired logger, who likes to play poker and doesn’t think twice about steering his wheelchair down an alley at midnight if it’s the fastest way home.
“He says if someone’s going to get him, they can just as easily get him at his house as they can on the street,” Wright said. “I guess what happened makes him right.”
Six months ago, someone broke into Miller’s apartment and stole an ammunition box filled with Eisenhower dollars and Kennedy half-dollars. Miller said he’d collected the coins for years and saved more than 800 before they were stolen. Police never caught the burglar.
Miller said he also had a collection of rare coins valued at $20,000 that someone stole from his mobile home several years ago, just before he moved into the tidy building on Riverside.
“I can’t get ahead without someone stomping on me,” he said, pushing cooked carrots around on his plate.
Miller was saving most of his money to buy a car, even though it’s been seven years since he’s been able to drive. He said he wants to use it to visit the grandchildren on the East Coast that he hasn’t seen “for so long I probably have great-grandchildren by now.”
Suspects in Saturday’s robbery were caught by police, who used pictures from a security videotape to identify them. Miller’s checkbook, which had more than $150 in cash tucked inside, hasn’t turned up.
Wright said other tenants in the 84-unit building are afraid of being robbed now, too. The apartments, owned by Catholic Charities, house mostly elderly residents who live alone. Entry to the building requires a key, but Wright said people can slip inside behind tenants before the door closes.
In addition, transients, homeless teenagers and drunken customers of downtown bars harass and intimidate tenants, Wright said.
“I’ve hired a security guard at night but we need to do something more,” Wright said. “There are a lot of problems downtown that our tenants have to live with every single day.”
Miller, in his red suspenders, patched jeans and blue button-down shirt, said he knows the real problems aren’t confined to downtown and can’t be solved by adding more guards.
“There’s something bad happening out there, with people,” he said, shaking his nearly bald head. “I mean, I’ve been up and I’ve been down but it’s getting hard to see the good in anybody anymore.”