Christmas comes early for Sumter family when son's stolen golf cart is returned


On Tuesday, a local family rolled into the holiday spirit when Sumter County Sheriff's Office investigators returned their golf cart after it was stolen on Thanksgiving.

May Baird said her son Tait Heffernan, 23, is non-verbal and was diagnosed with autism at a young age.

Riding in the golf cart gives Tait leisure entertainment, she said.

The family rode in the golf cart multiple times a day, every day, until Thanksgiving.

The family went outside that Thursday morning expecting to go on a ride and saw that the golf cart was gone.

Tait saved his money for seven years to purchase the golf cart, and it was taken not more than two months later, she said.

He loves to ride in the car and listen to music, and the golf cart allows him to do that in a more cost efficient way, she said.

Baird said the incident is concerning for her family because it means the suspects "cased" the neighborhood, spotted the golf cart and returned to take it the night before or the morning of Thanksgiving.

When the golf cart was reported stolen, Baird and her family received help from the owner of Ricochet Custom Golf Carts - the Columbia store where the golf cart was purchased - who called around about the theft. He was very helpful, she said.

Senior Investigator Jennifer Thomas, with Sumter County Sheriff's Office, said it was not difficult to identify the stolen golf cart because of its custom upholstery and paint job - Carolina Panthers colors. She recognized the golf cart as one stolen from Sumter County while working with an investigator in Lexington County.

Thomas remembered reading a local incident report about a stolen golf cart matching one that was photographed by Lexington investigators.

After identifying the golf cart, Thomas and Investigator Nelson Rosario - also with Sumter County Sheriff's Office - retrieved the golf cart from Lexington.

Thomas and Rosario then took the vehicle to East Coast Scooter on Broad Street in Sumter where the store owner changed the ignition switch and provided new keys, free of charge.

Tait had undergone a medical procedure on Tuesday morning and missed the initial surprise, but Baird assured the investigators that he would be excited when he saw it later.