A bicyclist who took the rare step of reporting a serial number after his bike went missing earlier this year helped police disrupt a theft ring targeting Colorado College and downtown Colorado Springs, an investigator said.
Police found the ID number during a routine search of sales records from El Paso County pawnshops. The records led investigators to the seller and four other people they believe acted as accomplices in the yearlong thefts.
"If everyone had reported their serial numbers, the whole theft ring may have ended a lot sooner," said Colorado Springs police detective Jerry Schiffelbein.
The arrests on Tuesday ended the search for 64 stolen bicycles that went missing over the past year, many of them high-end brands including Specialized and Gary Fisher that can sell for hundreds and even thousands of dollars apiece, police said.
The thieves mixed and matched bicycle parts to avoid detection - swapping gear sets, derailleurs and shocks - before selling the bicycles on the street or at pawnshops.
The theft ring did not involve Internet sales, and Schiffelbein said there was no evidence it had ties to other cities in Colorado.
Police suspect that many more bike thefts went unreported, either because their owners never contacted police or couldn't provide proof they were the owners, such as serial numbers.
Only a handful of bikes were recovered, police said. Few if any still had their original components.
The suspects - identified Tuesday as 22-year-old Justin Aber, 30-year-old Jessica Davis, 33-year-old Efrain Lopez, 21-year-old Danielle McKinney and 29-year-old Wesley Trotter - "knew what they were looking for," Schiffelbein said. The suspects, all of Colorado Springs, could be charged with felony theft, lying to a pawnbroker and conspiracy.
Their approach varied, police said, but one or more often approached locked bikes in well-lit areas and used bolt cutters to break through bicycle locks. A file could get through a cable lock in a matter of seconds, police said.
Jeremiah Cox, a sophomore, was among the theft victims who didn't bother to call police when his bicycle, an Iron Horse mountain bike worth $400, went missing in February. Whoever took it managed to get through a hefty lock, he said.
"I'm a New Yorker, so I'm pretty careful about that," he said.
Jacob Weiss, a senior who lost two bikes in two years, most recently in October or November, said he'll be keeping his bicycle in an off-campus apartment.
"Obviously, a bike lock doesn't mean crap in this town," he said.
The college provides indoor bike storage sheds for Slocum and Mathias halls, two large freshman/sophomore dormitories. The storage areas are available only to residents of those dorms, but Colorado College Chief of Security Ron Smith said that other students could request permission from housing coordinators to use them. Students may also keep bikes in their bedrooms, he said.
Smith said that the college plans to install cameras near bike racks and other storage areas.
Only one bike has been reported to security as stolen since the rash of thefts last fall.
Call Benzel at 636-0366
Elizabeth Findell of The Gazette contributed to this story.