Bike thefts increase this summer
As cycling and mountain biking ride a crest of popularity, consumers are shelling out thousands of dollars for the newest shocks and lightweight titanium frames but spending little to nothing on security.
The criminal element isn’t missing the trend.
About $40,000 in equipment was stolen in South Lake Tahoe in a three-month period. More than 135 bikes were reported stolen to the South Lake Tahoe Police Department from June 1 to the end of August. The crimes have occurred at every hour of the day and in every section of the city, making it hard for police to nail down suspects.
Detective Brian Williams said the sporadic nature of the locations, time frames and days of the week for the thefts has led him to believe that most are crimes of opportunity.
The police are making headway, thanks in part to the Secret Witness program and a suspect caught on videotape outside the El Dorado Savings Bank on Al Tahoe Boulevard.
A suspect identified by police as Jason Lopez, 19, of South Lake Tahoe, was taped Friday allegedly taking an $1,800 bike from the front of the bank. The owner had left the bike unlocked when he went inside the bank. Lopez was arrested outside his residence in the Chateau Bijou apartment complex this week. Williams was at the complex investigating another secret witness tip and saw Lopez in the parking lot.
On Tuesday, Williams said police recovered a garage full of bikes and parts at the residence of Edward Teska, 40, in the 900 block of Macinaw Road in South Lake Tahoe. Teska was arrested on suspicion of grand theft and possession of stolen property.
Debra Shipp, 34, and Curtis Brown, 41, who both live with Teska on Macinaw Road, were also arrested on similar allegations.
Juan Gutierrez, 23, of South Lake Tahoe, was arrested for grand theft and possession of stolen property in relation to other lost bikes.
“We believe the place on Macinaw was one of the larger fencing operations in the area,” Williams said. “In the garage, along with all the bike parts, there was painting equipment and grinding equipment for removing serial numbers. That’s part of the problem. Unless we can recover the bike quickly they become hard to identify. Often parts are interchanged, the paint is changed, and sometimes a new serial number is stamped on the frame.”
Williams said he still has two warrants in hand and two others pending for suspects in other, similar thefts.
“With the leads from secret witnesses and information from some of the suspects we seem to be making a dent,” Williams said.
“Bike thefts are common every summer, but this year seems to be worse than others. The number of expensive bikes is increasing and people are not yet acquainted with security procedures,” Williams said. “People will come up to South Lake Tahoe and be lulled into a false sense of security and they don’t use the same precautions they would at home.
“A lot of the bikes have been unlocked but some of the bikes were taken by using bolt cutters to cut through the locks. And these aren’t all tourists’ bikes – a lot of the victims have been locals,” Williams added.
The value of the bikes targeted range from less than $100 to one worth $4,500 that was removed from a truck with a camper shell. Sixteen of the incidents occurred between 10 to 11 a.m. and 13 between 3 to 4 p.m.
Williams said according to suspect information, many of the bikes are being sold for drugs and cash.
Pat Medau, co-owner of Sierra Cycle Works, said the key to avoiding a theft is to never leave a bike unattended.
“I have a very expensive bike and I don’t leave it,” Medau said. “Three years ago I took a bicycle inside the grocery store with me. I left it inside the door and walked 20 feet to the deli counter. I turned around and it was gone. People are watching for those opportunities all the time and you have to be aware.”
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