Admirable detective work and a little bit of luck leads to recovery of stolen bike

12 November 2019

Annika Schmidt

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At the beginning of last month, a bike was stolen on campus. After some detective work and a few lucky occurrences, the bike in question was returned to its owner in a matter of weeks.

Freshman Matt Coleman has been an avid mountain biker for ten years. “Biking for that long I finally got a decent bike,” he said. Coleman spent around $6,500 on the 2018 Santa Cruz: Nomad Carbon C.

“It was stolen on a Friday. I was planning on going for a ride that day,” Coleman said. “But when I got out of class, the lock was cut and the bike was gone.”

Coleman had been parked in Lot 224, just outside the library in the second row for one three-hour class when the bike was taken from the roof of his car. He immediately contacted campus police and filed a police report.

In addition to filing a police report, Coleman posted about the stolen bike on the Colorado Springs Mountain Biking Facebook page. By a stroke of luck, someone reached out with information, which lead to the eventual recovery of the missing bike.

This individual had recognized the unique looking bike being loaded into a car in front of a pawn shop in downtown Colorado Springs. They provided Coleman with a vehicle description and license plate number.

This information was turned over to Detective Corporal Martin Toetz. “It was a fluke that someone happened to drive by,” he said.

Toetz went to the pawn shop, but the shop had not purchased the bike. Toetz obtained a photograph of the suspect from the store’s security camera which was subsequently posted to social media in an attempt to get information.

The investigation eventually brought Toetz to an address in Woodland Park, where the car associated with the suspect was registered. Accompanied by the Woodland Park Police Department (WPPD), Toetz called on the address, but it was vacant and for sale.

According to the realtor involved with the sale, renters had recently moved out of the property. This presented a potentially dead end for Toetz, but more luck was right around the corner.

The next day, the WPPD responded to an unrelated call regarding a hotel eviction. The occupants of a hotel room would not pay and the hotel needed them to leave. One of these individuals was the bike thief suspect.

While the police did not make contact with the individual, Toetz now had a name. Using a national search engine utilized by law enforcement to locate stolen items, Toetz identified the pawn shop that the bike had been sold to and the bike was recovered.

Pawn shops are legally required to report all purchases and sales to a pawn detail and enter accurate serial numbers for all items. While Coleman had given Toetz the bike’s serial number, the pawn shop did not enter the number into the system correctly. This is being looked into separately.

“We got lucky with that one,” Toetz said. “So many things fell into place.”

Bike theft on campus, however, is nothing new. “I hate to say it’s common, but it is common because there’s bikes all over the place,” Toetz said. Most of the time, bikes are not recovered.

Toetz explained that it is nearly impossible to recover stolen bikes without a serial number. “I’m hoping this situation will encourage others to get some numbers off their bikes.”

He recommends taking extra steps as preventative measures against theft, including investing in more secure locks that can’t be cut as easily. Additionally, when leaving a bike on your car or on a bike rack, Toetz suggests taking the seat or front tire off.

“If I see a guy walking down the sidewalk with no wheel on a bike, that’s suspicious,” Toetz explained. “It gives us a reason to go talk to him.”

Coleman is definitely taking some of these tips seriously. He has now invested in a better lock, as well as a disk brake lock with an alarm, and is not commuting with his bike on his car as often. “I thought, ‘It won’t happen to me,’” he said. “But it did and I got lucky.”