A Jackson County Circuit Court judge has become another unhappy member of Medford's "Hey! Someone stole my bike!" club.
Judge Tim Barnack said his $1,000 mountain bike was stolen Sept. 17 from the back of his vehicle while he was working out at Superior Athletic Club off Biddle Road. "I was in the gym from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.," Barnack said. "When I came out, the bike was gone."
Barnack immediately filed a police report, and Medford police Chief Tim George told him he was the latest victim in a large and unexplained spike in bicycle thefts. Word seems to have spread among the criminal element that stealing bikes "is an easy way to make a buck," George said, adding the thieves are specifically targeting high-end wheels. "I want my bike back," Barnack said. "This isn't funny."
Welcome to the club, judge, says Nora LaBrocca, who co-owns Downtown Market Co. with her husband, Brian Witter. Employee Mark Smith's mountain bike also was stolen on Sept. 17 after thieves cut the cable lock on the 22-year-old waiter/musician's bike.
"It makes me so mad," LaBrocca said. "Here's this kid who's working his butt off. And some creep just ripped him off. That bike was his basic means of transportation."
Her brother Bill LaBrocca found his bike stolen last summer. It also was secured near the back of the restaurant patio, she said. "They were really bold," LaBrocca said, adding her brother's $1,000 bike had just come from being refurbished at a local bike shop. All the bike's serial numbers were written down, and police eventually were able to recover it.
Medford police Detective Sgt. Brent Mak said bike thefts continue to be a problem.
More than 60 bikes were stolen in the city in the first five months of this year. Since mid-August, Mak said, that increased dramatically as the weather improved and more cyclists were out and about.
"And we continue to get one or two more reports every day," Mak said. "Street criminals are stealing something they can easily pawn, trade or sell."
Thieves do not seem to be deterred by locks or chains, Mak said. Police are advising people to keep their bikes in sight and inside, if possible, he said.
Smith said he's already following Mak's advice. After his $1,000 "mean green" Cannondale mountain bike was stolen recently, Smith borrowed his dad's bike, worth a cool $1,400, he said.
"I put the bike upstairs (at the restaurant) now," Smith said, shaking his head. "I'm being really careful. I can't trust anybody."
LaBrocca's brother's bike was recovered from a local pawn shop, and the thief was charged, she said. But LaBrocca still wonders why the pawn shop's employees didn't get suspicious when the diminutive bike snatcher came into the store looking to sell a bike that was clearly built for her 6-foot-7-inch brother.
"The seat came up to this guy's head," LaBrocca said. "All someone had to do was think, 'What's wrong with this picture?' "
LaBrocca said employees could have then said they needed to get some paperwork, and then step into another room and call authorities.
"There has to be some sense of community," LaBrocca said. "We're supposed to be watching out for our neighbors."
This year's spike in thefts has the department wondering whether a criminal ring is involved. Mak said officers have come across bicycle "chop shops" in the past. Thieves will steal several bikes, switch out parts and put them on other bicycles. They often repaint a bike and then pawn it or sell it, Mak said.
Police recently arrested an individual whom they believe has stolen about 10 bikes, he said.
Mak said buyers who frequent Craigslist looking for a hot deal on a bike should be careful they don't end up with a hot one. They should be tipped off if a bike with a value of $1,000 is being sold for $200, he said.
"There's a reason that it's $200," Mak said.
Stolen bikes recovered by police will be returned to the rightful owner, he said.
"People need to be very leery," Mak said. "It's buyer beware."
Mak said owners should keep pictures of their bicycles to help officers identify them.
Barnack said he already has turned over photos of his white Specialized mountain bike with the 29-inch wheels. Barnack checked to see whether the theft was covered by his insurance carrier, but found his $1,000 deductible is the same as the value of the bike.
"So I guess I'm going to be buying a new bike, unless they find this one," Barnack said, adding that if the thief has any notions he can simply return the judge's bike "no questions asked," he can think again.
"This is not a close-your-eyes-and-count-to-10 situation. Just the opposite," Barnack said.
Medford residents are able to register bicycles on the city's website, which would help an owner prove a stolen bicycle was his or hers. They can fill out a bike registration form online and submit it to the city. A sticker and a copy of the registration form is then mailed to the bike owner, Mak said.
To register a bike with the department, see Web page goo.gl/fKpgR and follow the directions.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email email@example.com.