tampabay.com

Mugger stoops to kicking blind

A disabled man is robbed of even his cane en route to a convention.

By BEN MONTGOMERY
Published May 27, 2007


TAMPA - Kris Scheppe had a bus to catch. He stepped off the Amtrak train near Nebraska Avenue, slung his bag over his shoulder and started the short hike to downtown, feeling for curbs with his cane.

Tap, tap, tap.

Scheppe was born with retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited eye disease that left him with no peripheral vision and central vision of 20/100. He can see, but only directly in front of him, like in a tunnel.

But he doesn't shrink from a challenge. He's a former wrestler whose father taught him how to sail. He wants to sail around the world, alone.

At 2:30 p.m. Friday, in broad daylight, the 27-year-old -- in town from Fort Myers for a conference for the blind at the Wyndham Westshore -- asked a man for directions to the bus stop.

The man grabbed Scheppe's T-shirt.

"Give me the money," he demanded. Then came a rain of kicks and punches.

When it stopped, and the man ran away, Scheppe felt for his belongings.

His cane was gone. His phone. The duffel bag was gone, and with it his clothes, digital camera, about $190 and National Federation for the Blind shot glasses to sell to raise funds for the group. He also lost a checkbook belonging to the Student Division of the National Federation for the Blind of Florida, for which he's treasurer.

He got to his feet, bleeding from the face, and walked toward the skyscrapers. He found himself in front of the County Courthouse.

He saw a tie.

He asked for help, and the man in the tie showed him inside to security.

They phoned the Tampa police. The man with the tie -- Scheppe remembers his first name was Steve -- gave him $200, told him the police were on their way, and disappeared.

Police took a report with a vague description of the attacker: black male, 18-21 years old, 140 pounds, medium build.

Scheppe has never been in a fistfight before, but he won a Wisconsin wrestling conference championship for the Falcons of Sheboygan Falls High School. He was team captain his senior year.

He was such an accomplished 103-pounder, he wrestled for two years in college at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.

And he loves to sail. His dad taught him on Lake Michigan. He loves the peace, the quiet. Nothing but the wind pushing you.

He started power-lifting at Florida Keys Community College and dead-lifted 356 pounds.

After college he moved to Fort Myers and bought a 29-foot sailboat called Morgana. He now lives on the water and dreams of using the boat to teach blind people to sail offshore.

He wants to be the first legally blind person to circumnavigate the world alone.

At the conference, word of the attack spread. Several people noticed how shaken he appeared.

The federation covered Scheppe's room and fees and gave him money for new clothes.

"I was absolutely horrified to hear about it," said Kathy Davis, the group's president. "I just cannot believe that someone could be that vicious, that evil."

Scheppe says the attack has changed him, made him more skeptical, more careful. He has knots on his head, a swollen eye and an scrape on his temple. And his jaw hurts, but he smiles when he thinks about one thing.

"I swung a few times," he says. "A few of them connected."