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Man recovers stolen bike from homeless camp after seeing it on Denver7's 'tax for homeless' story

Owner confronts man who exited tent
Posted at 10:33 PM, Nov 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-07 01:07:14-05

DENVER -- Wash Park West resident Nick Owen says he can't believe the turn of events that led to the recovery of his stolen bicycle.

His blue Trek disappeared from his garage on Election Day.

He said he was home working in his studio, while his wife took their daughter to school, and when she returned home two hours later, she noticed his bike was missing.

"We have an app that opens our garage, and records its history of opening and closing," he said. "Sure enough, about 8 minutes after she left, the door had opened itself and remained open for two hours, and then closed itself."

Nick said they don't know if there is an issue with the app, or interference.

Whatever it was, it gave a thief a window of opportunity.

"You just feel violated by it," he said, "especially when I'm thinking about the timeline. I was likely one wall away from the guy that was in here, scoping out our garage."

He said he called police, and that the responding officer told him there's "been a huge rise" in stolen bikes over the last few months.

"She mentioned the (homeless) encampments, that a lot of them are basically impromptu chop shops where they will switch around parts to make a bike look a little different," he said.

Nick said the officer cautioned against canvassing encampments and confronting residents, but he didn't take her advice.

He drove past several tent cities, looking for his Trek. He didn't find it.

The following day, while watching Denver7 News, he saw the story about Denver's voter-approved Ballot Measure 2B, a sales tax to help the homeless.

"My ears perked up," he said, adding the video caught his eyes because of the number of bicycles.

"Out of the corner of my eye, like a flash on the screen, was this distinctive blue bike," he said. "I couldn't see the whole frame."

He said he paused the video a few times and hit rewind to pinpoint the location.

He said his wife recognized the library in the background, so they hopped in their SUV and drove up to 13th and Broadway.

They looked for the recognizable tents they saw on Denver7 and noticed a blue bike parked next to one of them.

"It was the same make and model as my bike," he said.

So he called police and requested assistance retrieving stolen property, then began staking out the area.

He said some of the residents fixed their glaze on him.

"I'm getting some eyeballs and some comments like, are you lost," he said.

Police didn't show. It started getting dark.

Soon, a man exited the tent, grabbed the bright blue bike, and started walking off.

Nick thought, it's now or never.

"I decided to intercept him at 14th & Broadway and confront him about it," he said. "I told him, that's not your bike and I know you don't want to deal with police. Give it back to me and walk away."

He said the man and a friend sized him up, and then said, "I don't need this bike," and handed it over.

Nick said he hopped on the bike, road it to where his wife was parked, then headed home.

Once he got it back in their garage, he flipped it over and checked the serial number. It matched the paperwork he had for his bike.

"My wife and I were just like high-fiving, hooting and hollering. It was quite a moment," he said.

Denver Police Department spokesman Jay Casillas said they sometimes get calls about stolen bikes being found at homeless camps, but can't determine whether it's stolen or not, because the bike isn't registered, or the owner can't provide a serial number, or proof that the bike is his.

Stolen Bikes
City-wide Statistics Courtesy Denver Police Department

2018 2,908
2019 3,283
2020 (Through Oct. 31) 3,522

Casillas said owners should make sure to lock their bikes up, even in a garage.

Dmitri Rumschlag, the owner of Z Cycle Bike Shop at 14th & Ogden, says they get about 10 calls a weeks from people asking them to be on the lookout for a stolen bike.

"We recovered about 15 bikes this summer," he said, after people came in sobbing that their bike had been stolen.

Rumschlag said most bikes are stolen from secured storage rooms in apartment buildings or condo complexes.

He said owners think the bikes are secure in a locked room, so they don't "lock" them up.

"It's really up to fate if your bike walks away or not," he said.

Rumschlag recommends storing your bike in your house, and using a heavy duty chain or "U" lock when riding it around town.

He also suggests registering your bike with local police.

"Get the color, get the make, get the model, and the serial number and give it to police," he said.

Rumschlag said bicycles are apparently stolen for "currency" purposes.

"A lot of times, it's someone who is really hard up, gets access and then gets a bike and then trades it for small needs," he said.

The shop owner told Denver7 he purchases bicycles at DPD's bicycle auction.

"We found that a lot of individuals buying bikes from the police auctions are the original owners," he said. "They'll spend less money to get it back than to buy a new one."

He said some owners ask police to return their bikes without charge, but police can't if there is no record of who it belongs to.

Nick said he's glad he got his bike back, and glad he was watching Denver7 the day after the election.