Ashland police have arrested four suspected bike thieves in less than two weeks after they began setting out a $1,500 bicycle — and those suspects could face felony charges because of the bike's value.
A 17-year-old male who allegedly stole the bike on Aug. 12 landed in the Jackson County Juvenile Detention Center in Medford, Ashland police said.
The bike, equipped with an electronic tracking device that alerts police when it is moved, continued to be a hot commodity this week.
Transient Nicholas Ben Wimberly, 35, was arrested Wednesday afternoon after allegedly taking the bicycle. He was taken to the Jackson County Jail in Medford and lodged on a felony charge of first-degree theft. Wimberly's bail was set at $5,000.
On Wednesday night, city of Rogue River resident Killian Vann Omotoy, 20, was arrested for alleged theft of the bike. Jackson County Jail did not have records of him being lodged in jail as of Thursday morning.
Transient Terrie Lagoy, also known as Terrie Lee Tezanos, 46, was arrested Thursday morning for allegedly taking the bike, police said.
She was lodged in Jackson County Jail on a felony charge of first-degree theft with bail set at $5,000.
Using bikes of a lower value, Ashland police began their bait bike program in October 2013 and made their first arrest within hours of setting out a bike. Those bikes are unclaimed and stored in APD's bike corral.
The $1,500 bicycle is the first purchased by APD for the bait program, said Deputy Chief Tighe O'Meara.
Theft reaches the felony first-degree level when the item taken is valued at $1,000 or more, he said.
O'Meara said police hope to not only deter bike theft in Ashland, but to catch higher-level criminals who are taking part in more organized theft operations. They typically target expensive bikes.
"People have different motivations for stealing bikes. Some steal a bike to ride it across town. Some take the bike to a chop shop where it's disassembled," he said. "With the felony-level bike, we're hoping to elevate the program. We're upping the ante on the level of bike we put out."
Stealing the $1,500 bike can lead to a charge of first-degree theft, a Class C felony with a potential sentence of up to five years in prison, although the sentence would probably be less, O'Meara said.
"That's not likely in the case of a property crime," he said.
Bike theft is one of the most common crimes in Ashland, but incidents appear to be falling since the launch of the bait bike program.
APD received 56 reports of bike theft in the first half of 2013. That number fell to 41 bike theft reports for the first half of 2014, O'Meara said.
Bike theft had been on the rise from 2012 to 2013, according to police records.
Since October, out-of-town residents as well as Ashland suspects have been arrested after allegedly taking bait bikes.
"We want to get the word out that if you are stealing a bike, you may be stealing an Ashland Police Department bait bike," O'Meara said.
Police commonly switch tactics, setting out both locked and unlocked bikes and using a variety of bikes. They also share unclaimed bikes with other agencies, including Southern Oregon University's campus security and the Talent Police Department, O'Meara said.
He said police sometimes set out unlocked bait bikes because unlocked bikes are the ones most commonly stolen in Ashland.
"Statistically, most bikes stolen in Ashland are unlocked. Your best defense is to lock it with a good lock," O'Meara said.
He said the $1,500 bike was purchased from a local shop.
"We did buy it from a local store to keep the money in the local economy. We very deliberately didn't go to Walmart or Medford," he said.
Police urge bike owners to register their bikes for free with APD. Registration is mandatory in Ashland and helps police reunite stolen or lost bikes with their owners.
People who complete the one-page registration form will receive a license sticker to put on their bicycles.
The online registration form is at http://www.ashland.or.us/FormPage.asp?FormID="145".
Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or by email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.